Michigan football was able to get a much-needed big-game win over No. 14 Iowa on Saturday at the Big House by a score of 10-3 in a throwback barnburner between Big Ten schools. We knew that points would be hard to come by, but that did not make some of the things from the victory any less concerning.
Still, a win is a win, and there were a ton of positives in the game. However, the negatives hang over them like a black cloud heading into a daunting final seven games. Here’s the immediate takeaways from Saturday.
“QB or coordinator” the new “chicken or egg” debate
Shea Patterson had an awesome showing last week against a dreadful Rutgers team, but was back to inconsistent play in the game against Iowa. He finished the day with 147 yards on 14-of-26 passing attempts and an interception. A chunk throw to Nico Collins in the first quarter for 51 yards accounts for more than a third of his output on the day. For a good part of this game, the offensive gameplan was not terrible and the offensive line was holding up against a physical Iowa front, but Patterson continues to not process quickly enough and hold onto the football too long. People want Josh Gattis to dial up all of these pass plays down the field, but much of the time when it is there Patterson does not see it.
From there, the playcalling was a bit more conservative, which is a by-product of not trusting your quarterback. And it is not as simple as just yanking him out of the game for Joe Milton. Two weeks ago, he was your No. 3 quarterback. A pretty touchdown pass against Rutgers’ glorified traffic cones is not enough to make that switch yet. Though if Dylan McCaffrey was available, I suspect we would have seen him as a “spark” instead of some of the frippery and trick plays in the second half.
The effort from Gattis to try and get something cooking is appreciated, and it was probably needed given what they were getting out of their quarterback, but it says a lot right now that they are more comfortable with Donovan Peoples-Jones throwing the ball down the field on a trick play than they are with Patterson.
Patterson is not comfortable in this offense and Gattis has not been able to scheme up a way to make him comfortable in this offense. If someone is ready to get first-team snaps, it’s time to, or else this is probably a four-loss football team.
Neither party is doing a good enough job to make the other person successful, and that ultimately falls on Michigan as a whole. You’re going to have struggles against good teams, and there are a ton of good teams on Michigan’s schedule, but four out of five games with subpar or worse results is a disturbing habit this late in the year. If there’s a switch to be flipped, it may come from an act of God or from someone behind Patterson on the depth chart.
Masterful performance from the defense
Let us take a moment to raise a glass to defensive coordinator Don Brown, who coached his team to one of its best defensive efforts under him at Michigan and did a complete 180 on what the Wolverines did at Wisconsin a few weeks ago against a similar team. The defense forced four turnovers on the day and sacked Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley eight times. We are starting to see stars emerge on that side of the ball to fill the shoes of the guys they lost last year, whether it be linebacker Cam McGrone, defensive end Kwity Paye, and safety Daxton Hill. The arrow continues to point upward here and this is a performance to build off of from them.
The crossing routes and mesh patterns over the middle of the field continue to be a concern, but it’s hard to even get mad at the players over it because they have not adjusted to it in almost a year. Hill defended one perfectly that was tipped to Ambry Thomas for a pick and a few of them here and there were played nicely, but Iowa did most of its damage over the middle of the field, as has every team that watched the film of the Indiana and Ohio State games last year. Iowa did convert on some long-yardage third down situations when Michigan elected to play man coverage, but the Wolverines did not allow them to convert on third down in five opportunities in the fourth quarter to close out the game. These guys deserve the praise they will get after this one. Even Brown, who mixed in enough zone with the young athletes Michigan put on the field to get the job done. Hats off to them.
Odds and ends
- It does not show up in the box score because the run game stats are not pretty (33 carries, 120 yards, 3.6 ypc), but the offensive line played much better on Saturday and did its job in both pass and run blocking situations more than they have. Surrendering four tackles for loss and only two sacks against an Iowa front that features a probable first-round pick in A.J. Epenesa is impressive. You should walk out of today feeling much better about how they will hold up in a phyiscal game.
- Michael Dwumfour and Carlo Kemp only had three tackles on the day, but those guys were terrific stuffing the run and played their best games of the year for Michigan on the interior of the defensive line. Dwumfour especially. Him stepping him and playing at a high level is a big deal for the health of the defense as a whole. If those guys continue to play like that with ascending young talent around them in all three levels, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win some football games.
- Defensive end Mike Danna did a really nice job filling in for Kwity Paye after he left the game with what looked like a hamstring injury.
- Cornerback Lavert Hill has had a rough go of it at times this year, but his interception inside the redzone was huge for Michigan and showed why he is so important to the defense. When he plays well, they have one of the best secondaries in college football.
- It was a rough day for the special teams units across the board. Will Hart was booting punts into the endzone for touchbacks, both Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody missed field goals, Peoples-Jones fumbled a kickoff return and Iowa was able to rack up some yards in the return game. Chris Partridge’s unit has been the most consistent all year and this feels like it was a blip on the radar game for them, but they have a lot to correct.