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Roundtable: Time to bounce back against Rutgers

Rutgers v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ed: Hey, guys. Before we jump into Rutgers stuff, I’m curious about how you judge Michigan’s season so far. I’ve heard a couple different opinions out there from the fan base. The first says this team is meeting preseason expectations, heading for an 8-4 or 9-3 season. The second says this team is failing to meet expectations and not developing quickly enough. What are your thoughts?

Von: They are certainly meeting my preseason expectations. I expected them to hit the 9-3 mark with losses to Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. If they lose their final two games and hit the 8-4 mark, I would be completely okay with that.

In a rebuilding year after almost the entire team went to the NFL or graduated, national and local media expected a step back from the Wolverines. Fans, however, did not necessarily buy into that mindset, which is why there are some people calling for Harbaugh’s head, as irrational and stupid as that is.

If the Wolverines finish 8-4 or 9-3 and make a decent bowl game against another quality opponent, I am more than okay with that. I was not expecting a Rose Bowl/CFP bid this season. But if this happens again next will be hearing complaints from me.

Dan: I don’t know what the stages of grief are, but I’m at acceptance. For a couple reasons: 1) Florida friggin stinks, so the increased expectations after that game are long gone and 2) As Von said, this team isn’t that far off those pre-game expectations. The early season was filled with “name” programs that are used to going bowling or have had decent histories in the last decade or so. Purdue looked much improved earlier in the year. I think at this point it’s time to realize that we let some of that cloud our better judgement.

They lost the entire defense, the majority of the offense’s playmakers, and after Wilton Speight went down, they lost the one cohesive piece keeping that unit together. If you told me before the year started that Speight would go down early and we’d only lose 4 games, I’m with Von, I think I would’ve been happy. This team has showed some TREMENDOUS fight in it for a young squad, and assuming the quarterback issue gets resolved, the future looks bright.

Jared: The loss to MSU was both unexpected and painful, but the rest of the season has gone about as expected. I won’t beat a dead horse bringing up just how much this team lost to the NFL and graduation, but that was the biggest turnover I can remember a Michigan team undergoing in my 20 years of watching. You don’t lose that kind of talent and immediately win a Big Ten Championship.

People will be quick to mention Urban Meyer and how quickly he turned things around, but we did not recruit on that kind of a level in 2014/2015, and those are the guys who would be counted on for big minutes at this point. I think this season is a gap year unfortunately, but 8-4 in a gap year is nothing to panic over. There is nothing written that says we can’t still upset Wisconsin or OSU either, and a win against OSU would make this a successful season in my mind.

Colman: I am typically an optimist when it comes to the Maize and Blue but I definitely overestimated the coaches’ ability to take a lot of young and inexperienced players and develop them really quickly. I was also fooled by the ability of some highly touted freshmen and first-year starters to step in and have the ability to produce right away.

This is not to say that the future isn’t bright for Michigan. It very much is. Any talk of firing Harbaugh is so completely nuts that I can’t believe people are even bringing it up. Not a single fan, blogger or writer out there predicted the offense to be this bad. Losing Speight has turned out to be a bigger hit than once thought, same with Tarik Black and the continued and very unfortunate two-year loss of Grant Newsome. With no depth on the O-Line (and a black hole at RT), a healthy Newsome could have pushed Cole over to the right side and solidified this line and the offense would look a lot better. That still wouldn’t make up for poor decisions throwing the ball, poor passes and receivers that struggle to get open, but at least the running game would be more effective and the QBs wouldn’t be running for their lives just about every play.

Hoke’s last two recruiting classes, which would be upperclassmen, did not leave many contributors or depth. Those are just the facts, not excuses. As the offense ages a bit, Michigan fans will be very happy. For now people, RELAX, this team is still on the right track.

The defense has exceeded expectations though, and despite being gutted by a very talented PSU team, they are still on pace for a top ten finish statistically after losing most of the unit.

Certainly, the MSU game was very disappointing and a winnable game but five turnovers will pretty much do you in against any team. However, Penn State would have beaten Michigan even if they were at full strength and played their best game. They are simply more talented this year.

All in all, I think the team is behind where they should be offensively and ahead of where they should be defensively. I also think that they still have a chance to upset Wisconsin and/or OSU and will win the other three games. I believe that PSU is the best offense Michigan will face and will be able to correct a few things and keep the scores reasonable to give the offense a chance. 8-4 is acceptable under these circumstances, 9-3 (especially if a miracle win v. Ohio State happens) would be phenomenal. There’s that optimism again.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

David: While I was hopeful some of the younger players who saw the field last year had the potential to surprise a lot of people and develop quickly, my expectations were that another 10-win year would be a success. They are 1-1 so far in the games you circled as tough opponents and fell short against Michigan State. The position groups are all developing and think this team still has a good shot of winning on the road at Wisconsin, if they gain momentum and win each of the games before then.

It's been such a roller coaster for fans since Coach Carr was at Michigan for 13 seasons. Consistency is something coming back with this coaching staff and how I would sum up the program in one word since Jim Harbaugh started coaching in 2015. A third season in a row with 10 wins is a great accomplishment to build off of for 2018 with most starters returning.

Ed: Okay, now let’s get right into a hot issue. Is this the week we finally see Brandon Peters? How do you think the coaching staff should manage the quarterback situation moving forward?

Von: Harbaugh said at his weekly Monday press conference that Peters is still receiving backup snaps in practice while O’Korn remains the starter. If anything, we will see Peters late in the game when the score is out of reach for Rutgers to make a comeback. Unless O’Korn goes down with an injury, we will not be seeing Peters as the starting quarterback in 2017.

This should not be a surprise to people, and here’s why. At this point in the season, why would Harbaugh want to take out O’Korn and put in a brand new guy? I know the symmetry between O’Korn, the line and the skill players is miniscule, but why would you want to mess that all up and put in some guy that may not even be the answer?

Remember when people were booing at Michigan Stadium and people were yelling for Harbaugh to replace Speight with O’Korn? And then Speight got hurt and the offense was still a hot mess?

Man, this fan base has been something else this year.

Dan: While I agree with the premise of what Von is saying (we won’t see Peters—Harbaugh won’t do it), I am going to push back some on the comparison to Speight’s situation.

First, when it comes to play, Speight was leaps and bounds better than O’Korn has been the last three weeks. We’re four starts into his Wolverine career and he’s yet to find the end zone. That’s astounding to me. Secondly, and more important, the situations are totally different.

When Speight was “struggling”, the season (and his weapons) was young and “best chance to win” made a lot of sense. While I think there are arguments to be made that John O’Korn cannot possibly give us the best chance to win, I think that’s irrelevant. Any “best chance to win” is so miniscule, that I can’t justify sacrificing the future. There’s no redshirt to worry about burning — unless, #FreeDylan — so get the reps!

The offense with Speight was still averaging about 30 points per game and set some records last year. Under O’Korn, that’s not the case. Play Brandon Peters, see what you have. At the very least, if Speight wants to return to the field, you’ll know whether or not he’ll be needed in Ann Arbor or if you can afford to grant him a transfer.

Going into 2018, with the weapons and defense all prepared to make a serious run with high expectations, a QB competition with two unproven redshirts doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe not this week, but before Wisconsin, Brandon Peters has to start.

Jared: I am disembarking the Brandon Peters hype train. If he were the future of our team, surely he could’ve beaten out O’Korn for the backup role, right? For whatever reason I am starting to suspect that Dylan McCaffrey wins the job next year, and Peters is the backup. I have no concrete reason to suspect this, just a hunch.

That being said, if you are going to put Peters in this year, it almost has to be against Rutgers this weekend. This is the last ‘cupcake’ game we have on the schedule, and I would not want to throw him to the wolves at Camp Randall or against the Buckeyes and destroy his confidence. In a perfect world, we are up by three scores at the half and Peters can come in and at the very least get some valuable reps.

Colman: First off, I have complete faith that JIM FREAKIN HARBAUGH knows what he’s doing with quarterbacks so I defer to the expert to make the right choices. However, from my view on the couch, we should absolutely see Brandon Peters against Rutgers at the very least, and probably against MD and MN too and then go from there.

Not only do game reps matter for development, but O’Korn won’t be here next year and Speight’s future availability is still unknown. Peters may very well be the next Michigan QB and needs to get some playing time to get comfortable in a college football game. Rutgers, although better than last year, still stinks and this should be good game to get him a lot of PT.

I said this last week as well, but if O’Korn continues to struggle, what does Michigan have to lose? They are out of the B1G championship race now and despite some minimal improvement from O’Korn this week, the passing offense still can’t get much worse. The O-line and receiving issues aren’t going to improve much so, granted, this isn’t an optimal situation to put a young guy in. However, if you’re weighing the Killing of Confidence v. Actual Game Reps, I take the latter every time and hope that the guy I recruited has the mental capacity to overcome any failures early on, learn from them, and succeed later.

Would I start Peters Saturday? Possibly, depending on how close these guys really are in practice. Would I play him a lot regardless of how the game is going? Yes, absolutely.

David: Based on how the coaches have responded to this question earlier this week, I suspect Brandon Peters to get in the game against Rutgers at some point. While they want to win the game and build off that going forward, I think they want to establish the right opportunity to slide him in against an opponent he can gain some confidence and develop. The quarterback surely is not the only issue with the offense, so putting in Peter will not solve everything.

Ed: Rutgers isn’t quite as bad as they were last season, though that’s not saying much. Is this the best matchup for the Wolverines to get back on track after the blowout in Happy Valley? Other than the QB situation, what do you want to see from Michigan tomorrow?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Von: This is an incredible matchup for Michigan coming off that ass whooping of a lifetime. Michigan’s No. 5 total defense going up against Rutgers’ No. 122 ranked total offense in the country. Yeah, you could say that is a good matchup to get back on track.

I want to see a response from the defense, specifically from the secondary. The corners didn’t play all that bad, but the play from safeties Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel was very poor. Not all of it was their fault, though, as they were being forced into 1-on-1 situations with some of Penn State’s better receiving options. All McSorley had to do was chuck it up and hope the 50/50 ball would go into his receiver’s hands. More often than not, it did.

After getting demolished in Happy Valley last weekend, the defense needs to regroup and bring that Don Brown intensity into this game. The last thing you want is to have a hangover from a brutal game like last weekend’s and give up big plays to the armpit of the Big 10. I’m not saying they need to shutout Rutgers, but they certainly need to limit them throughout this game.

Dan: There’s really not a lot this team can do to fill last week’s gaps because I mostly want to see Don Brown match up his best against the other best. How many times Kinnel or Metellus got matched up against Dasean was ridiculous, and using McCray against Barkley rather than Hudson or Bush was baffling.

In light of that, I want to see a blowout. The defense needs to score, the offense needs to run for a billion yards. I have no expectation from the passing game. Kill Rutgers. That’s all I want. If there’s a slow start, throw in Peters.

Jared: Just get back to playing winning football. I fully expect Don Brown and the defense to have a huge bounce back game, and they should play with a chip on their shoulder. The criticism of Metellus and Kinnel is warranted, as they each played their worst game of the season last week. Devin Bush has kind of faded a bit in recent weeks, I expect to call his name a bunch.

On offense, this is the last chance to right the ship before a tougher than expected finish. Minnesota and Maryland are not going to be gimmies either, so we can use this game as an opportunity to grow. Why not let Kareem Walker tote the rock a little bit? Couldn’t hurt anything and we could really use a spark on offense.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Colman: Michigan couldn’t have asked for a better matchup after a blowout than Rutgers. No matter who the QB is Michigan should win this game easily. If Rutgers gets to double digit points, I’ll be surprised, as this defense will be out for blood.

I would like to see the game in hand in the first half and then see some younger players get PT in the second. Unfortunately, the early season games that Michigan was expected to win handily and have the opportunity to get young guys reps didn’t really turn out that way so who knows? Let’s hope this game is different.

Nico Collins had his redshirt burned against PSU so I hope to see a lot of him in action. On the WR note, I’d also like to see Michigan get DPJ the ball a bit more. I’m with Jared on Kareem Walker, the ONE carry he had he looked very quick, lets see what else he has too.

It would be nice to see more of the back-up defensive linemen and linebackers as well. We’ve seen some sparks from some of these guys and it would be great to give the starters (who play a TON of snaps) a quarter or more of a break.

David: It’s a good team to play at this point in the year to get back on track. I don't want to chalk up a huge win and will still watch every play. The defense will come out firing on all cylinders and have some extra aggression from last weekend. I’d like to see the offensive line, along with the pass protection, do better. They cannot afford to allow the amount of sacks they have been so far and if that improves we could see a much better offense over the next few weeks before the last two tough games.

Ed: So 78-0 seems a bit out of reach this year, but no doubt we expect Michigan to win this one, right? Let’s get your predictions.

Von: Ed, if Michigan wins 78-0 again I will personally buy you a brand new Cadillac.

The line as of right now is favoring Michigan by more than three touchdowns. They have a chance to win by that much, but I actually think Rutgers is going to put some points on the board and have Michigan’s offense in check for a little bit.

Like I said in my Big 10 betting lines earlier this week, until Michigan is able to blowout a team I am not going to pick them with a spread like that. Michigan wins, but it will be closer than the irrational fans want. Then we will see more #FireHarbaugh on the Twitter-sphere.

Michigan 27, Rutgers 13

Dan: Maybe it’s because we’ve been writing a column together for three weeks now, but I’ve converted to Von’s form of realism. This passing attack is too impotent to blow anyone out and the defense has had five bad quarters in a row now going back to Indiana. Rutgers’ offense stinks but their defense can do some things, especially against a one-dimensional offense. So, let me plug something else here.

My old fraternity, Phi Delt returns to the greatest of all homecoming traditions, The Mud Bowl outside the old SAE house. They’ve raised a ton of money for CS Mott’s Children’s hospital over the last couple years and the scene homecoming Saturday morning is surreal. The game actually started as an annual SAE/PhiDelt game eventually evolving to the campus-wide event that’s become more well known. You can donate here:

Phi Delt 13, Michigan Mud Bowl Club 6

Michigan 24, Rutgers 14

Jared: I think hanging a cool 70 points on anyone is probably off the table this year, but this could be the game the offense finally breaks out. The O-line took a step forward against Indiana, and two steps back against Penn State. I would imagine that Harbaugh and Drevno really challenge those guys this week, and Michigan runs the ball down Rutgers’ throat.

Michigan 31, Rutgers 10

Colman: Michigan can’t score 78 points in 3-4 games combined right now, so I can’t see anything close to that. I do think Michigan will look a ton better on both sides of the ball against a team that will be outmatched at nearly every position.

I look for the running game to dominate at the tune of 250+ yards. If the QB’s can chip in 100-150 through the air and Michigan can win the turnover battle, they’ll win with ease. I REALLY want to predict another shutout, but I’ll give Rutgers the benefit of the doubt and give Michigan a bust or two that allows them to score.

Michigan 27, Rutgers 7

David: I don’t think a Rutgers team that lost to Eastern Michigan and is averaging 22.6 points per game will get over 100 yards rushing. They played Ohio State and got shutout 56-0 by the No. 16 ranked defense. Michigan moved down to the No. 5 ranked defense overall in the country after the PSU loss and will play with aggression.

Rutgers rushing is No. 63 in the nation and will be going up against Michigan’s No.11 ranked rush defense. I don't see it as a blowout like last year, but we could definitely see more on offense in a probable two-quarterback game and rack up the points. It will be a good sign if Michigan can score over 30 points and I think they get the job done.

Michigan 38, Rutgers 10