Michigan returns to action this week against the Penn State Nittany Lions, who are coming off of a nail-biting win against Iowa. Last year, Trace McSorely (he’s back) and Saquan Barkley torched Don Brown’s defense on the way to a 42-13 romping.
The game had a couple competitive moments in the first half, but once the dam broke (the offense puked on itself and the defense got tired), things got very ugly. Roles are reversed with Michigan chasing after a playoff berth and the Nittany Lions feeling the effects of massive roster turnover at the skill positions.
In my opinion, a bye week after Michigan State was just what the doctor ordered. To say that game was emotional would likely be the understatement of the century.
Obviously no game this week, so let’s talk about what I’m hoping Michigan really emphasized during the bye week.
Gap discipline on defense
McSorely and Barkley were most effective on misdirection type plays a year ago. When you play defense as aggressively as the Wolverines do, you’re going to be prone to big plays. Rashan Gary’s health is a huge question mark, but the recent emergence of Uche, Dwumfour and Paye allowed Brown to rely less on aggressive and creative blitz packages. This has allowed Michigan’s hyper-athletic linebacking core to take away many short and intermediate throws. I hope we see a continuation of form for the Michigan front.
Getting Tarik Black involved
Black made his uneventful, yet ever important return to the field last week against the Spartans. When he’s been healthy during his first two campaigns, he’s been Michigan’s best receiver. Donovan Peoples-Jones has lived in the end zone this season, so Black should have a couple opportunities to make plays downfield.
It’s going to be on Shea Patterson to give him those opportunities. The Michigan quarterback has a very good deep ball but has been somewhat gun-shy over the last couple games. Undoubtedly, some of that has to do with Michigan’s head coach and success running the ball. The Wolverines have worn down Wisconsin and Michigan State in back to back weeks. Whatever the Badgers and Spartans have done to tarnish their reputations this year, that’s a big mental hurdle for the Wolverines to get over.
Michigan is one win away from surviving their season-defining stretch unscathed. Every game this last month has been the most important game of the season, and Jim Harbaugh’s squad has answered the bell in very convincing fashion.
I highly doubt McSorely plays the way Alex Hornibrook and Brian Lewerke did. He offers a unique challenge because he’s athletic and likes to make plays down the field. Those have been Michigan’s weak spots when they play poorly, so that’s going to be key to watch.
Shea Patterson has really settled into his game manager role, but I believe this is the week he’ll need to make the leap. He’s played well enough to cover the spread against basically everyone besides Northwestern since Notre Dame. Still, there are concerns: he holds the ball too long, he takes dumb sacks, he’s overly aggressive at times. Shea has been at his best when his team has needed him most this year, so I expect him to make a big statement. It wasn’t until the final third of the season that Jake Rudock really exploded, and Shea’s numbers are far ahead of Rudock’s 2015 marks at the same point in the season.
Around the Country
Sighs. Bama was off and is set to face off against LSU in a national quarterfinal Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
Georgia wiped Florida away and will travel to Lexington to face Kentucky in another national quarter final.
Texas is not back
Penn State survived, Michigan State looked solid without Lewerke and Wisconsin probably stinks.
The non-Clemson wing of this conference became irrelevant the moment Josh Jackson went down. Virginia Tech has unironically played like a team forced to play a Kansas transfer.
USF and Cincinnati falling from the unbeaten ranks the last couple weeks really puts a damper on whatever case UCF was going to make to the playoff committee.
Dan’s Picks (20-25: 1-4) Fade me, yall
Georgia -10 @ Kentucky
Tulane @ USF -8
Penn State +10 @ Michigan
Alabama -14 @ LSU