Six weeks into the college football season and not much is clear. Every team is seemingly in contention for the Playoff and some have a strength of schedule that rivals Cass Tech so they are impossible to evaluate.
However, we know we can rely upon Michigan to frustrate, Ohio State to terrify, and Nick Saban to perennially be more inevitable than Thanos.
As we sift through the season, from the Michigan Wolverines, to the sport at large, several things have been lost and found thus far.
The Wolverines won on Saturday in a gritty, old school Big Ten type of game, toppling the Iowa Hawkeyes 10-3. If offensive fireworks are something you desire, this game was the equivalent of snakes & sparklers in a cold July rain.
LOST: Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s confidence in Shea Patterson; Shea Patterson’s confidence in Shea Patterson
For six minutes, the Michigan offense was humming: mixing up the play calling, stretching the defense horizontally and vertically, overwhelming at the point of contact. One interception later and everything was gone.
Gattis immediately changed to a conservative approach and in turn, became more predictable. Soon after, Shea misread a basic zone coverage, he no longer believed in himself enough to find a date, let alone make a big play.
If this offense is fragile enough to collapse at the top after one mistake, the ceiling for this team is limited to eight wins.
LOST: Michigan’s special teams prowess
Porous kick/ punt coverage, Donovan Peoples-Jones fumbling the football, Will Hart regressing, and Jake Moody missing a chip shot, were the low lights for Michigan’s special team unit. Quinn Nordin missing a field goal is standard operating procedure at this point.
Typically a strength for the Wolverines, all aspects were weak, placing more pressure on the offense and defense. Losing the field position battle is one thing, but carelessness with the football and taking points off the board is how a season quickly falls apart.
When the offense is playing more inconsistently than the Terminator movies, the special teams must be better. Otherwise the aforementioned Michigan ceiling floats around .500.
Fortunately, the Wolverines possess a defense that rivals O.J’s in the 90’s.
FOUND: Dominant defense
Special shout outs to: Don Brown, Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye, Carlo Kemp, Michael Dwumfour, Mike Danna, Josh Uche, Cam McGrone, Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow, Ambry Thomas, Vincent Gray, Lavert Hill, Dax Hill, Josh Metellus, and Brad Hawkins.
The entire defense was terrific. Sure, you can knit pick defensive coordinator Don Brown calling for press man coverage on third and long, missed tackles, and the occasional bad play, but this unit did everything and more to procure a victory.
The defense recorded 4 turnovers, 8 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, and allowed 1 rushing yard all afternoon, to a team literally constructed to run the ball. Time and time again, this unit was forced to over compensate due to the offensive ineptitude and time and time again the defense rose to the occasion.
Given the offensive support they had to work with and the caliber of opponent they were facing, this was the best defensive performance by a Michigan team in the Harbaugh era. While not sustainable in the long term, a win is a win, and Michigan will take them any way they can this season.
Michigan proved they can beat a top 15 team with great defense, six minutes of offense, and sub-par special teams; very few teams can say that. If the offense can find even half it’s stride, the Wolverines can contend with any opponent on their schedule.
While national media pundits were wrong about Nebraska even being close to competent, they were right about the strength at the top of the BIG and disparity with the bottom.
LOST: Any record Jonathan Taylor wishes to break
Jonathan Taylor is the most consistently dominant running back since Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma; except Taylor is better.
Jonathan Taylor (through 5 games this season) already has more touchdowns from scrimmage, averages more yards-per-carry, and has almost 1,000 more yards from scrimmage than Peterson.
Next week, Taylor will surpass Mike Hart on the conference’s all-time rushing list and, barring injury, he will finish the season second all-time in conference history only trailing Ron Dayne. If Taylor returns (please don’t) for his senior season, he will shatter the career marks for running backs in a myriad of categories.
Jonathan Taylor is the best running back in the history of the conference and will soon have the numbers to rest his case.
FOUND: P.J. Fleck’s boat
Remember P.J. Fleck? The enthusiastic coach who led Western Michigan to a 13-1 record in 2016, who clamored endlessly about rowing a damn boat? Well, he’s back and so is his boat as he leads a Minnesota program from submergence in mediocrity to floating at the top of the conference.
Fleck has increased his win total in each of his first two seasons (five and six respectively) and has the Golden Gophers at a very quiet 5-0 right now. Granted, Minnesota has played no one of consequence, but undefeated is undefeated. A favorable schedule should allow the Gophers to flirt with nine wins this season.
Nine wins at Minnesota is the equivalent to eleven or twelve at most programs, so this resurgence and Fleck are worthy of praise. Michigan better cling tightly to that Little Brown Jug because the trip to Minnesota in 2020 is poised to be a dog fight.
FOUND: Ohio State’s overwhelming dominance
Excuse the tears on my keyboard as I write this, but head coach Ryan Day has this program operating at a College Football Playoff level. Ohio State boat raced the Spartans on national television to the tune of 529 total yards en route to a 24-point victory.
After the ‘AH THEY ARE MORTAL’ first quarter, the Buckeyes quickly racked up 24 points and almost 300 yards in the second quarter alone. When this team hits the gas, Elon Musk cannot even keep up.
Defensively, the team had 3 takeaways, 4 sacks, and 9 tackles-for-loss. Physicality stands out for this unit as they merely overpowered the Spartans in all aspects, which is rare against a Mark Dantonio squad.
Of course there is always a chance Ohio State loses before December, but it appears unlikely as ever this season. Sigh.
LOST: Any chaos (for now)
Georgia was trailing Tennessee in Rocky Top; Oklahoma was trailing Kansas in Lawrence. Jeremy Pruitt and Les Miles are defensive geniuses looking to make a name at their new schools. The fans were loud and the stages were set for upsets.
Tennessee and Kansas lost by a combined 45 points.
I am beginning to sound like Dr. Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park with my inevitable chaos theory, but trust me, it’s coming.
Watch out next week for both USC’s; University of South Carolina playing Georgia and University of Southern California playing Notre Dame.
It is unexpected, but chaos always almost is.
FOUND: The Florida Offense
With quarterback Feleipe Franks lost for the season due to injury, the Florida Gators were forced to turn to backup Kyle Trask, with their undefeated season on the line. Sure, Trask can handle the Tennessee’s and Towson’s of the world, but what about national contender Auburn?
Trask did not blink.
The Gators beat the Tigers 24-13, Trask threw for an efficient 234 yards and 2 touchdowns, and survived some devastating hits from the Auburn defense. With Trask at the helm, winning the SEC East is more tangible than ever for the Gators.
However, Trask and company cannot rest on their laurels or lick their wounds for even a week, because they travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers this Saturday.
Cheers to chaos.