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Reality Check: Michigan has issues to correct, but the sky isn’t falling

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It wasn’t the way Michigan wanted to start the season, but things could be a lot worse.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan vs. Notre Dame.

We talked about that matchup for months on end, and now the day has came and gone with the Wolverines losing 24-17.

But if you went on social media you’d think the Wolverines lost by eight scores and that this was the most embarrassing and unacceptable loss in years for the program. Hell, even Braylon Edwards went on a crazy drunk tantrum on Twitter against his alma mater that got him suspended by the Big Ten Network. There were a lot of hot takes, and a lot weren’t all that good or level headed.

Here’s a level headed take for you, so please sit down and relax for a couple minutes.

Michigan losing to Notre Dame wasn’t cool but there were plenty of silver linings to be had.

Let’s take a look at both sides of the spectrum here and find the reality of the loss and where this team may be headed.

The Bad

  • Offensive line play needs to improve: Jon Runyan was thrown around quite a bit, and it wasn’t a banner game for anyone along the line, nor was it for the tight ends in pass protection. It wasn’t bad every single play, but more often than not Shea Patterson was under duress and the run game wasn’t churning out big gains.
  • Penalties on defense: Defensive holding, roughing the passer, targeting, pass interference, facemask all were called against Michigan’s defense.
  • Big chunk plays given up: On the deep pass play to Chris Finke by Brandon Wimbush, Brad Hawkins should have intercepted it. Hawkins was in the proper position but Finke “Moss’d” him and took the ball right out of his hands for a score. That was a big blow.
  • Turnovers: Shea Patterson threw an interception off his back foot, and had one hand on the football when it was smacked away, resulting in a lost fumble that ended Michigan’s comeback attempt. Then there was the botched field goal attempt because Will Hart didn’t handle the snap cleanly.
  • Drops by Gentry: While tight end Zach Gentry could still have one hell of a year, he dropped a couple balls and one proved to be quite costly on third and goal. Patterson delivered a great throw to Gentry, it hit his hands, and Gentry dropped it. A TD here could have shifted momentum.
  • Evans not utilized enough: I do not disagree with the amount of touches Evans received on the ground, as his skill-set wasn’t meshing well with how ND was stopping the run, but Evans should have been used more in the passing game. When the New England Patriots are down and the pressure keeps coming hot, Tom Brady loves to find his running back time and time again in the passing game. Evans is that type of player, and it’s unfortunate they didn’t give him more shots to contribute in the passing game before the fourth quarter.
  • A little more passing would have been nice: There were a few times run plays felt predictable, and the evidence was stacking up that the Wolverines were likely going to gain minimal yardage via the ground game. In these situations, a pass would have been more ideal. Shea Patterson finished the game with 30 pass attempts, even if the number jumped to 35 or 38 attempts it could have made a difference.

The Good

  • Patterson has a high ceiling: Patterson made some great throws throughout the day, especially some on the run that were highly difficult. He also stepped up in the pocket well when under pressure to find open targets.
  • The defense settled down: The second half was a different game for Michigan’s defense, only allowing three points and less than 100 yards of total offense. While they looked vulnerable in the first half, the latter part of the game they looked like they could dominate just about any offense in the country.
  • It wasn’t a simple gameplan, lots of formations were used: While you may not have liked the overall outcome, some of the personnel decisions, or the gameflow in terms of playcalling, the gameplan didn’t suck. Michigan played out of the shotgun a ton with a variety of formations out of it, and they also mixed in a lot of I-Formation too. But for the most part, the offense was not predictable and you can’t diss the use of the spread.
  • The receivers were reliable: I know some of you are going to say “but they weren’t getting open!” It’s hard to get open on every play, they got open enough. Grant Perry, Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Oliver Martin all hauled in catches and it appears the unit may be a deep and talented one.
  • The backup QB looked competent: When Patterson left to get an IV with cramping issues, Dylan McCaffrey came in and got the offense some much needed first downs. McCaffrey looked calm and collected at the helm during his brief time in the game, where he went 4-6 for 22 yards while adding ten yards on the ground.
  • That Thomas dude can scoot: Ambry Thomas may be a difference maker in the return game, on his 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown he made all sorts of good moves and had tremendous speed. This TD was no fluke, it may be the start of plenty more big things to come from the young man.

The Reality

Losing to a rival to start off the season puts you in a position that has little margin for error the rest of the way. Jim Harbaugh said that this is the beginning for the team , it isn’t the end. While you may deem that a cliche, he’s right.

The loss doesn’t define the 2018 Michigan Wolverines, but how they respond to the loss surely will.

Most of the pieces are in place.

The quarterback play featured a couple bad mistakes but Patterson still appeared to be a leader with guts that can get things done. He has plenty of weapons around him, both at receiver and running back.

The offense is definitely evolving and isn’t a finished product, be it along the offensive line or the scheme in general. I truly don’t have many questions about this Michigan team besides whether the o-line can improve or not. The scheme looked better than last season, besides a run play here or there you knew was coming, what formation was coming next was not predictable for the ND defense to decipher.

Unfortunately for Michigan they faced a damn good team in a hostile environment to begin their year, they didn’t have the luxury of playing Oregon State or Utah State. If they played a cupcake the narrative this week would be a lot more sunshine and rainbows opposed to doom and gloom. But that isn’t reality, so I digress.

The reality is they could have done better, they wish they could play them again tomorrow, and I contend it would be a different result. That means they lived and they learned from the hiccups. And I believe that will be the case when we see them play Western Michigan, SMU, Nebraska, and Northwestern throughout September.

If Michigan can improve upon what I deemed “The Bad” and keep expounding upon “The Good” I still believe this team can compete with anyone in the Big Ten, but they have to start winning in the trenches consistently on offense.

I know it was a painful loss for the fans who are reading this, but I encourage you to give Harbaugh and Co. a little more time to succeed this season. Step away from the ledge, my friends. It was a weird game that resulted in a familiar feeling of gut-wrenching disappointment, but 0-1 isn’t the end, there’s a ton of ball left to be played.

The hype train may have left the station and the pitchforks are already out, but Shea Patterson, the Michigan defense, and the changes on the coaching staff could still be hyped up accurately when the dust settles in 2018.

Who knows.

But we are going to find out.

The sky hath not fallen yet in early September of the year 2018.

End scene.