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What we learned about Michigan in Week 1: Harbaugh still hasn’t figured it out

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Harbaugh doesn’t trust his offense, Shea Patterson plays well, and the Michigan defense was more impressive than what stats showed.

Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The start to the Michigan Wolverines football season went about as poorly as it could have. In the first half of their loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the offense was held to just 90 yards, while the defense gave up more than 200.

A valiant effort at a comeback in the second half was brought short after Patterson was hit and fumbled the ball with under a minute remaining.

There was a lot to unpack in all the disappointment of losing the first game, but here is what we learned after a rough Week 1:

Harbaugh’s stubbornness is hurting the Wolverines’ production

Jim Harbaugh failed the Wolverines on Saturday night in South Bend. The coaching on the offensive side of the ball was some of the worst I have seen in his time in Ann Arbor. Let’s go back to a drive that could have changed the entire course of the game.

In the third quarter, Brandon Watson made a great play on the defensive side of the ball and snagged a pick off a bad throw by Brandon Wimbush. This was an incredible opportunity for the Wolverines to flip momentum and take some shots down field.

Instead, Michigan comes back with a pitch to Higdon on the left for a loss of five yards, then runs up the middle and stuffed on second down. Finally, they complete a pass for 10 yards, but end up four short of the first down. Harbaugh elected to go for it, the O-line could not stop the leprechaun rush and Patterson was forced to make an ill-advised throw that was incomplete.

A decent football team is able to capitalize in this situation. This was in no part on any player on the field, because this team has the talent to do that, but Harbaugh for some inexplicable reason decided to play it safe in a moment where any other great coach would take a shot downfield.

This was the worst drive of Harbaugh’s career. The man who has displayed confidence all offseason about how different this offense is going to be and how great the new quarterback is does not have enough faith in this team to make a play down the field.

Brian Kelly did. That is why Wimbush, who is not a better downfield thrower than Patterson, completed two deep 50/50 balls on the first two drives of the game that both led to Notre Dame touchdowns. Harbaugh failed to put together one of the simplest rules of offensive coaching. You have to throw the ball downfield to open up the short passes and the running game. That is why Higdon ran the ball 21 times and had less than 75 yards!

Patterson threw only one deep ball in the entire game which he completed to Nico Collins for 53 yards. Why not have faith in him that he can do it more often? Especially after after a freaking turnover.

Now he is 1-6 against rivals and his play calling is a big reason why. If he doesn’t open up the play book for the talent this team has, the number on the right side of that column will continue to grow.

Despite the poor play calling, Patterson played adequately in his Michigan debut

Something incredibly frustrating to me after the game were the shots Patterson took from fans on social media. Some even saying he never should have transferred to Ann Arbor. To all of you, what game were you watching?

Patterson performed about as expected, and much better than any quarterback we saw on the field last year. He finished the day 20-for-30 with 227 yards and a pick. He started off a little slow, but when he settled in he showed exactly why Harbaugh was so fond of him.

His most impressive play was the aforementioned 53-yard pass to Collins on a drive that should have ended with a touchdown or even a field goal if it were not for the botched hold. He showed composure in the pocket despite facing a heavy Notre Dame rush on almost every single play.

The interception he threw was not a good one, after he threw a ball too far behind a covered receiver while taking a hit from one of the Irish. But the fact he only made one mistake with how little time he had to get the ball off is pretty impressive. The offensive tackles got beat probably 90 percent of the time, which makes his 20 completions even more impressive.

I firmly believe Patterson is only going to get better. He will shut the mouths of all of the naysayers in the following weeks and really come into his own as the Michigan starter. He still has the potential to carry this offense through a very difficult Big Ten schedule.

The Michigan defense was more impressive than stats will say

The Michigan defense gave up a total of 302 yards to the Fighting Irish on Saturday, and if two plays weren’t made by Notre Dame it would have been a much different game.

On the first two drives, Michigan defenders were Moss’d for big gains, those two plays amounted to almost 75 yards and both drives ended in Notre Dame touchdowns. Had the ball been slightly tipped or intercepted, this game would have been much different.

Although, the credit does have to go to the Irish because they made both plays and, well, Michigan didn’t.

The second half was much more like what fans expected from the juggernaut of a defense Michigan was expected to have this year. They found a way to contain Wimbush’s scrambling, and Notre Dame’s offense as a whole as the Irish scored only three points in the second half.

Where the defense wasn’t impressive was on third down. Notre Dame went 7-of-15 on third down, which is very unorthodox and uncharacteristic of Don Brown’s defense. I’m sure this is something Brown will have a conversation with his defense about throughout the week.

On to the next one

Overall, there is hope for the Wolverines yet. The season is not over because of one loss. As Karan Higdon said in the presser after the game, “We can’t let this game define us.” There is still a lot of football to play, and Michigan still does have a chance, no matter how bleak, at a College Football Playoff run. Let’s hope they can turn it around this Saturday when they take on Western Michigan at noon.

For more quality and up to date information on the Maize and Blue, follow @MaizeNBrew and @DanPlocher on Twitter.