The Wolverines escaped Evanston on Saturday after coming back from a 17-point first quarter deficit against Northwestern. It was yet another demoralizing start to the ballgame as the Michigan offense gained a total of 20 yards on their first three possessions, two of which ended in a 3-and-out.
But the defense stood tall after that horrible, no good, very bad first quarter, and held the Wildcats’ offense to just 91 yards for the remainder of the game.
What did we learn from the Wolverines’ experience on Saturday?
Michigan is still not fond of road games
The Wolverines have always struggled on the road under Jim Harbaugh, but there was hope this season could be different with a more experienced team and a stud quarterback in Shea Patterson. But the same issues continue to be a problem in road games.
They are now 1-1 this season when they are not in the Big House, but are 0-2 in good road performances.
The similarities between the two road games this season are stark. The schemes both offensively and defensively to start road games have been abysmal. Michigan trailed Notre Dame 10-0 after their first two offensive drives of the game and 21-3 after their first four drives. Likewise, Northwestern broke a 17-0 lead after the first three offensive drives.
What is the greatest factor into this? Being unprepared and allowing momentum to continue.
The Wolverines cannot continue to be smacked in the mouth in the early stages of the game. Playing from behind is an extremely difficult thing to do, especially when you have Michigan State and Ohio State on the road this season. Those are two teams that will have the most momentum if an early lead is established. Getting off to better starts must become a priority for Harbaugh and his staff.
To their credit, the coaching staff’s adjustments have been very good this season. The defense has a much better sense of direction after seeing how their opponents move the ball, and the offensive playbook has opened up when they need it to. Hopefully these adjustments continue to be the norm as we progress through the season.
Patterson has an excellent ability to scramble
Something we haven’t really seen Patterson do this season is run the ball effectively. We all knew based on the tape of him at Ole Miss he was capable of gaining a few yards with his feet, but we had yet to see it this season.
That changed Saturday. Patterson picked up a total of 31 yards on seven attempts, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. We saw moments of Patterson escaping some pressure and picking up short first down conversions. Plays like this could be extremely important as the season continues on.
This was my favorite of the Patterson scrambles. He really made something out of nothing on this play. It appeared the Michigan quarterback would be decked before the first down marker until he burst forward for another five or six yards. Hopefully Harbaugh will look at this game tape and allow Patterson to run the ball a few more times in the future.
Ghosts exist (at least according to the officials from Saturday)
Holy mother of God, look at this play. This is potentially the worst “penalty” I have ever seen. Look at the rest of the offensive line as well. There was absolutely zero holding happening on this play. I might need to call the Ghostbusters to figure this one out.
Patterson would have had another 25 yards to his name if that play had stood.
Time to say enough is enough from Sean McKeon
Gentry has been a manimal so far this season, recording 13 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown in the five game. His big frame at 6-foot-8, 262 pounds allows him to be a force in the blocking game, as well.
There were high hopes for both him and Sean McKeon to start the season. Where Gentry has thrived, McKeon has not.
McKeon hasn’t been as effective a blocker as Gentry, and hasn’t done well slowing down defenders. He also just hasn’t gotten open, recording only six receptions for 62 yards. Saturday was the coup-de-gras, in my opinion, for McKeon after dropping a potential 25-yard pass from Patterson early in the game.
This contributed to the Wildcats’ momentum and gave them the opportunity to stop the Wolverines on third down. Mistakes like this have seemingly become common for McKeon.
Luckily, Nick Eubanks came into the game in place of McKeon after the drop and was effective as a blocker and a receiver. If the mistakes continue, I personally would like to see a little less of McKeon as the season hits its strongest point.