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What We Learned: Maryland Week

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Michigan is still who we thought they were and much more from this past weekend.

Maryland v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT MICHIGAN

Not much new stuff really. Michigan is who we thought they were - a top-tier college football team who dominates lesser competition. Nobody is surprised that they held a team averaging 33 PPG to 1/11th of their season average. The gawdy 59 points they put up is only 13 above the season average they held coming into the game. With the exception of the Wisconsin and Colorado games, every time this team plays in the Big House, the results have been the same:
-The game is decided within a few plays of the opening kickoff.
-Michigan plays so well that it’s hard to tell if the opposing team belongs in the FBS.
-Some writer or rival fan complains that Michigan is not being nice.

This week, the serial whiner was Ron Fritz of the Baltimore Sun, who apparently thought Maryland was coming to the Big House for a game of hopscotch, and that Jim Harbaugh was going to “play nice” with DJ Durkin.

Durkin took the Maryland job during OSU week and had Michigan’s defense woefully unprepared for the OSU game. Durkin trying to steal recruits from Harbaugh, and Durkin trying to steal coaching staff members from MIchigan. But let’s all expect Harbaugh to get together for a nice game of hopscotch.

Oh, apparently, Jake Butt signaling a first down is a real hot button issue for this man.

Wilton Speight, Heisman candidate? Wilton Speight has made all kinds of leaps since the bye week. He and the coaching staff apparently used this time to further his development. Watching the way he is slinging the ball to whoever is open right now is not something I am used to from Michigan quarterbacks. This is the furthest along I’ve seen Michigan’s passing game since I watched Tom Brady shred Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl. Is Wilton Speight the second coming of Tom Brady? Maybe not, but I bet he gets drafted a whole lot higher.

I was dumb enough to think his ceiling capped Michigan’s win total around 10, heading into the season. I was going by what I saw last year in the OSU game. I did not allow for the “give Harbaugh a whole offseason with this guy and watch what happens” factor.

Wilton Speight is still limited by speed. This does allow defenses to play up a bit on him because the running threat isn’t there. Michigan does creative things to make this less important. The fake jet sweeps keep linebackers on their toes, and buy him extra time. Plus the fact that Jabrill Peppers can come in at any time and play wildcat QB keeps the threat of the QB run alive. Also when Speight has the ball, he is not a sitting duck. He is big enough to shed many tacklers, and his ability to improvise after contact has been outstanding.

What should we be concerned about this week? Last week, it was run stoppage. Michigan completely shut down Maryland’s run game, and they are a run first team. They gave up some passing yards, but that is not Maryland’s preferred method to move the ball, meaning Michigan didn’t allow Maryland to play their A game on offense. The result of this is the 3 on the scoreboard next to Maryland’s name.

This week I am looking at LB play. Particularly Mike McCray. Simply put, he got beat a lot. OSU has a couple of RBs that can catch the ball out of the backfield, on the wheel route, or in the flat. If these guys aren’t tackled right away, look out. That’s the only remaining game of the 3 where I could see this being a future problem.

The concern with McCray is his injury history, and I wonder if he is starting to wear down. This is Michigan’s worst position as it pertains to depth, so #9 needs to be out there, and he needs to play well. And he knows it.

With the self-awareness and desire from McCray to get better, along with Michigan’s history in 2016 of fixing their problems, I put the worry scale on this situation right around 2.75 out of 10.

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE BIG TEN

Ohio State’s offense is BACK. OSU’s offense had not joined the 2016 Big Ten season as of Friday. But Saturday, they came through in a big way, beating much-too-highly-ranked Nebraska 62-3. My fear of this team is starting to come back, but not as much in years past. Nebraska’s backup QB had to finish the game for the concussed Tommy Armstrong, and he looked as out of place as me at a vegan food convention. Their defense continued playing stellar, and it certainly helped them that their offense was on the field for a long time. But that’s enough time spent saying nice things about that team.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for MSU, it got a lot worse. Illinois came into the MSU game with only a win over Rutgers in the conference. They had QB issues that only the Cleveland Browns can identify with, so this had to be an MSU win, right? Wrong. MSU continued their season of futility, taking their record to 2-7. With Rutgers coming to town, not even the battle for The Situation Trophy can save the matchup. But one of these teams WILL get their first conference win of the season. It’s mid-November.

Can Iowa threaten Michigan? Probably not. Let’s clear up some misconceptions.

“But they always beat us at Kinnick.” - They “always did during the RichRod and Hoke era. There’s a new sheriff in town.

“But it’s a road night game.” - I’ve got good news for you. Great teams travel. Seniors and upperclassmen travel. And most of all, defenses travel. Michigan has all those things going for them, and an elite head coach, who won’t let Michigan take the foot off the gas.

“But Iowa was 12-0 last year.” - And this year, they only beat Rutgers 14-7, and they just lost to Penn State by 4 possessions.

One main factor in this game are that Iowa is going to try to beat Michigan by going right at them. Iowa is still an old school run-first team. But to be honest, trying to beat Michigan at their own game with inferior athletes is not going to be effective. Another main factor is the noise and how close the crowd is to the field in terms of proximity. I love having Wilton Speight starting in this spot because of his experience as a top-tier golfer. In my opinion, golf develops mental toughness more than any other sport. Once you’ve dealt with making high pressure golf shots, a few roudy Iowans must seem like nothing.

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