Michigan lost by a score of 24-17 to Notre Dame in the season opener, which is being stated as doom by much of the fanbase, and rightfully so in some aspects. Somebody’s fans were going to flip out with a loss in this game among two of the wildest and most-hated bases in the country. Once again, it’s the Wolverines faithful that are in meltdown mode. Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s game.
Shea is fine
The biggest storyline of the game was the debut of Shea Patterson at quarterback. For the most part, he was alright. The coaching staff did a nice job of getting him settled in early on with some rhythm throws, which was clearly to get the ball out quick and draw the defense in for potential shots down the field later on, which they did hit on once with a 52-yard bomb to Nico Collins, who was every bit as advertised.
Ball security was an issue with two turnovers out of Patterson, but he was under fire all night. We’ll touch on that soon, but Patterson fought hard and put the Wolverines in position to tie it late until a fumble sealed Michigan’s fate. He cramped up and was replaced by Dylan McCaffrey, who played well in relief, but was able to come back and finish the game with 20-of-30 passing and 227 yards.
Offensive tackles aren’t
Michigan’s biggest concern coming into the year was its offensive tackles on both sides of the line. Neither were great, but Jon Runyan Jr. played one of the worst games at left tackle that these eyes have ever seen. He played too high and was beaten off the snap several times. That the Wolverines had nothing better to replace him with is an even bigger concern and one that there may not be much of a solution for unless dramatic improvements take place.
So many people have given Jim Harbaugh crap because of quarterback play, but Saturday night, the true Achilles heel was revealed. Michigan has whiffed on so many players on the recruiting trail in the position they need most desperately and they cannot seem to develop any of the guys they do have. If they are going to get what they did on Saturday, you may as well take lumps with freshman out there. It’s not good enough. As far as the rest of the line goes, the interior held up fairly well aside from a few miscues. Notre Dame’s defense deserves a ton of credit, as they were able to get pressure with three and four guys all night.
Defense caught off guard, but adjusts as expected
The most surprising aspect of the game was how the defense was punched in the mouth early. When Notre Dame went up 14-0, guys were simply making plays on the Irish offense and no shortage of impressive catches were on display. Brandon Wimbush proved to be more than just a runner and played well above what he was expected to.
Michigan was overly aggressive and was unable to get off the field on third down, which put them in an unfavorable spot. Perhaps even bigger of a problem is that they had at least two or three chances at interceptions bounced through their hands. It continues to happen in big games and it has been a shotgun blast to the foot for a few seasons now.
To their credit, they allowed only three points in the second half and gave up 69 total yards. That should have been enough to get it done, but the offense sputtered inside the redzone and missed points all over the field.
Big game woes continue
At the end of the day, Harbaugh is going to come under fire for now being 1-6 in rivalry games, and it is warranted. The Wolverines not only still struggle to beat their rivals, but are now 9-9 in their last 18 football games, losers of four straight dating back to last season. That surely is not what anyone signed up for.
The argument can be made that the tackles cost them the game, but there were some wonky playcalls that were reminiscent of what frustrated the last three years. The coaches rarely gave Patterson a chance to unleash himself and make plays on his own, which is frustrating because clearly he brings a lot to the table and there’s a ton to like about his game.
Undisciplined and unprepared. Again. At some point, being “so close” just is not enough. This team program lacks a killer instinct when it faces its biggest obstacles. It is a tough environment to come into, but that is the name of the game and a lot of guys are being paid handsomely to lead the charge. Nobody can sit there and objectively say that they are happy about where things have gone, but there are plenty of more opportunities to shut people up this season. This was not a loss to a cupcake. Notre Dame is a hell of a football team that proved it is better than we thought they were, especially at quarterback. If Michigan is going to be anything more than a brand name that wins 8-9 games a season, they just have to find a way. They cannot really be given the benefit of the doubt to go out and make a statement until we see it.
Until then, all of the talk amounts to this:
Takeaways will be up before too long. Here's an immediate one. pic.twitter.com/krO12t7Vqs— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) September 2, 2018
What lies ahead
If Michigan is a playoff team, their margin of error just slipped away tremendously. They can maybe afford another loss, but they more likely than not need to win out. Everything from here on out is building to what is the next huge game on their schedule, which is Wisconsin on Oct. 13 at home. Now, they have to take care of Western Michigan, SMU, Nebraska, a road trip to Northwestern and then Maryland at home first and there are a few games in there that could give them problems. A loss in any of the next five games probably dooms them, but their playoff hopes are very much alive still. After Wisconsin comes a game at Michigan State and then Penn State at home, so we will know where this is heading not only on Oct. 13, but in the two weeks following it.
The defense is still elite despite early hiccups against the Irish. The flashes are there on offense and the upside is still way higher than it was last season. All is not lost.
There was a fair amount of good to come out of this game, but it was not enough once again. If they can’t stop the bleeding at tackle, nobody can make the case that they should beat any of the top teams remaining on their slate. In the long run, this could benefit them and putting a bad taste in their mouth early may be the drive they need. But that taste has lingered since what feels like the Iowa game in 2016 and they haven’t responded.
This is Michigan, after all.