Michigan closed out its non-conference schedule by knocking off SMU 45-20 Saturday afternoon at the Big House. The victory puts U-M at 2-1 on the season with Big Ten play looming. Here are the biggest takeaways from the win.
Shea Patterson Is The Real Deal
After the debacle Michigan had at the quarterback position last year, seeing Shea Patterson hitting receivers in stride and scrambling for first downs is quite the breath of fresh air.
Against SMU, Patterson was spectacular, completing 14-of-18 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. All three of the scores went to sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, which gives him four receiving touchdowns on the season — four more than he had in 2017.
Patterson has shown the ability to connect on deep balls, mid-level routes and quick hitters, all in addition to his scrambling capability. He ran for 20 yards against the Mustangs, highlighted by an 18-yard dash.
Tight end Zach Gentry also looked good in the passing game, hauling in four passes for a team-high 95 yards. He far out-played fellow tight end Sean McKeon.
The only complaint to make about the passing game Saturday was Michigan didn’t air the ball out enough, particularly in the first half. The Wolverines continued to try to pound the ball, and with senior running back Karan Higdon out with an apparent injury, it just wasn’t happening. Chris Evans is a fine tailback, but he’s not a short-yardage guy.
In our what to watch for story, we wrote we’d like to see more of a balanced attack. We didn’t see that against the Mustangs, as Michigan threw the ball 18 times and ran the ball 41 times (69 percent running plays).
The big surprise of this game was Michigan’s defense simply wasn’t that good. It was solid in the first half, allowing just seven points and scoring a touchdown of its own, but was sloppy in the second half.
The secondary in particular couldn’t slow down SMU wide receiver James Proche, who caught 11 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Safety Brad Hawkins blew coverage on Proche in the second quarter, allowing him to score SMU’s first points on a 50-yard pass and catch.
Besides the 20 points allowed, the main area of concern was the team’s 13 penalties for 137 yards. Ten of those penalties came on defense, giving SMU 107 yards of free offense. That lack of discipline isn’t going to cut it in Big Ten play, especially when four of those penalties are for pass interference (even if several were poor calls, like Tyree Kinnel’s when the pass was clearly out of bounds and un-catchable). Not only that, Michigan players picked up two personal foul calls and a roughing the passer penalty.
Now, junior viper Khaleke Hudson will miss the first half of next week’s Nebraska game after he was ejected in the third quarter for targeting. There’s a whole story that could be written about how poorly the targeting rule is written and why it’s bad for college football, but we’ll save that for another time.
The final observation from Saturday’s game is Michigan really struggles defending running quarterbacks. After halftime, SMU put in backup quarterback William Brown, who completed 11-of-17 passes for 82 yards and two scores. He also hurt U-M on the ground, rushing eight times for 48 yards. The Wolverines couldn’t stop Notre Dame’s running quarterback Brandon Wimbush in the opener, and it appears that style of play could hurt them again down the line.
Running Game Struggles Without Higdon
Without Higdon, Michigan’s running game really struggled to get going until late in the fourth quarter. He was a game-time decision according to Jim Harbaugh, and didn’t feel like he could go. Evans took over as the starter, finishing the game with 18 carries for 85 yards. A fourth quarter burst for 35 yards boosted his yards per carry mark from 2.9 to 4.7. Unfortunately, he also left the game late with an injury and is questionable for next week.
Now a scholarship player, Tru Wilson ran 11 times for 53 yards and a touchdown. It’s always nice to see a player fight to earn a scholarship and excel on the field. He’s an easy player to root for and could be the team’s starter next week if Higdon and Evans can’t play.
Despite the decent final numbers, Michigan will need more from the backfield next week against the Cornhuskers.
Given the way the rest of the Big Ten fared Saturday, Michigan should feel relieved it escaped with a 25-point win, just ask Wisconsin, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois or Nebraska. The Cornhuskers travel to Michigan Stadium next week for coach Scott Frost’s first conference game. After their 0-2 start, it’d be surprising if Michigan is not a heavy favorite. The conference as a whole seems wide open and U-M is primed for a breakout.