After kickoff was delayed by more than an hour because of lightning, Michigan took care of Maryland 42-21 on homecoming to improve to 5-1.
Here are our biggest takeaways from the game:
Michigan ended up allowing 21 points, but one touchdown came via special teams, when Maryland running back Ty Johnson took a kickoff back 98 yards in the first quarter. The third touchdown came in the final minutes after Michigan had clearly taken its foot off the gas.
The Wolverines entered the day with the nation’s No. 1 defense, allowing 232.6 yards per game. Maryland totaled just 220, and 176 of those yards came in the final 17 minutes and 15 seconds after Michigan went ahead 27-7.
The defense was dominant and started strong, something great to see after slow starts against Notre Dame and Northwestern. It even scored a touchdown to ice the game, as cornerback Brandon Watson returned an interception 46 yards to the end zone.
Keep in mind the unit did all this without defensive end Rashan Gary, who was held out with an injury.
The road certainly gets more difficult in the coming weeks with Wisconsin, Michigan State (which lost to Northwestern today, in case you haven’t heard) and Penn State, but it appears the machine is well-oiled and should be ready to go.
Offensive Line Impresses
The biggest knock on this team has always been the offensive line play. However, over the last few weeks we’ve seen monumental improvement from the big men up front, and that continued against Maryland.
New offensive line coach Ed Warinner seems to be worth every penny.
With the exception of the botched fourth down play in the first half, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, routinely opening up gaps for running back Karan Higdon and keeping the pocket clean for quarterback Shea Patterson. Michigan totaled 171 yards and a score on the ground (averaging 4.3 yards per carry), and gained 294 yards through the air.
It wasn’t just the offensive line that was strong in protection. Running back Tru Wilson was great in pass protection, and fullback Ben Mason displayed the toughness we’ve gotten used to seeing from him (and a hurdle).
How the offensive line holds up against Wisconsin will tell us a lot about how far the group has truly come, but you have to like the direction things are headed in.
Patterson Is A Play-maker
No Michigan quarterback under Jim Harbaugh has had the ability to escape defenders and make plays like Patterson. He continues to look comfortable in U-M’s system and has shown he can escape the pocket, extend plays and find receivers (or run it himself) for first downs. On Saturday, he completed 19-of-27 passes for 282 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
We saw that play-making ability again against Maryland, most notably on his touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the third quarter. He evaded would-be tacklers and hit Peoples-Jones who would dash his way into the end zone.
Patterson also scrambled on several occasions, looking to create something, but when nothing was there he threw the ball out of bounds instead of forcing a throw. Being able to sense when the pocket is closing in around him and knowing when to get rid of the ball is greatly beneficial to Michigan’s offense, which has looked 10 times better than it did a year ago.
That doesn’t mean Patterson always makes the right play — he can be a risk taker — but more times than not he makes the correct decision.
In the first quarter, he ran out to his left and fired a pass high to tight end Zach Gentry. The pass went off his fingertips and into a defender’s hands for an interception. It wasn’t necessarily Patterson’s fault, the ball wasn’t uncatchable, but it demonstrates the risk/reward that comes with a guy like him.
Michigan has scored more than 40 points four times and more than 50 points once through six games. Last season, U-M didn’t reach 40 points in any game. Patterson, who has been everything Michigan has hoped for, is a large part of that.
Next week we find out whether or not Michigan is a playoff contender with Wisconsin coming to Ann Arbor.
The night game showdown will see two teams that play classic, smash-mouth football do battle. The Badgers will likely win the West, meaning there’s a chance it could even be the first of two meetings for these teams this season. It should be an electric atmosphere and has all the makings of a classic.