The Michigan Wolverines put together a dominant showing over the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, winning 44-10. The Spartans struck first, but the Wolverines were the team that continued to dish out devastating blows to retain the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Here are the takeaways from Michigan’s win.
Speed found in space
The Michigan receivers powered Michigan’s offense for much of the day the running game took a while to heat up and consistently gain positive yards.
The wideouts were peppered with screen pass opportunities, and they cashed in on those chances repeatedly. Some of these looks involved receivers in motion pre-snap, other looks involved sweep runs from Giles Jackson, who had two runs for 32 yards, good enough to be the leading rusher for Michigan on the day.
The offense was diverse. While they had success on short and intermediate throws, there were deep shots as well with players in space, to Cornelius Johnson, Sean McKeon, Nico Collins, and Ronnie Bell. Michigan’s offense has a lot of weapons and they’re finding ways to use them.
After the game Jim Harbaugh said that Josh Gattis had a great game-plan and predicted the adjustments Michigan State would make and had an answer for them. Shea Patterson said that the plan wasn’t to pass as much as they did, but it was working, so they kept the air onslaught going. This was an attacking offense, there was a steady dose of aggressiveness that didn’t coincide with recklessness. Michigan kept their foot on the gas down the stretch and didn’t let up once they stepped on MSU’s throat.
While many expected Michigan’s offense to look like this from day one, the reality is it takes time for a team to get comfortable with a new scheme, and it looks like they now have that comfort along with the ability to go out and execute at a high level.
Ronnie Bell has become a proven playmaker
The player who was the go-to option in the offense was Ronnie Bell, who has become arguably the best wideout for Michigan. In all, Bell had 9 receptions for 150 yards on 11 targets. Bell hauled in bubble screens, caught balls in traffic, and was able display his vertical speed on a deep pass by Shea Patterson that went for 42 yards. Bell’s route tree has evolved, and despite a notable drop this season, he’s had reliable hands that have dropped less and less passes as the season has unfolded.
There are enough playmakers in this offense for the ball to get distributed somewhat evenly, but it is starting to come as no surprise when it’s Bell who leads the charge on the field, and on the stat sheet.
Shea Patterson has his best game as a Wolverine
Shea Patterson put up the most passing yards in his career at Michigan, and the most ever by a Michigan quarterback versus Michigan State. Patterson was 24-of-33 for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns, and did a variety of positive things throughout the ballgame. Michigan did get off to a slow start offensively, but things changed well before halftime and Patterson was responsible for the offense turning things around.
Patterson was able to get the ball out quick when there were open targets to found, and did a fine job of getting out of the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield to get it to an open receiver. Patterson’s pre-snap reads were excellent at times, too, especially on the 42-yard pass to Bell where he knew he’d have a one-on-one match-up to exploit. Patterson was clutch passing the ball on third down, converting six attempts through the air and going 7-of-10 for 174 yards on 3rd down in all.
This is the type of performance Patterson needed heading into big games against Indiana and Ohio State. Patterson’s confidence, as well as that of the offense overall is high right now and there’s a level of momentum building.
Michigan’s defense dominated down the stretch
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke had success early and engineered a touchdown drive to put the Spartans up 7-0, but they weren’t able to do much after that scoring drive. Michigan’s defense buckled down and started playing an effectively aggressive brand of football.
The Spartans mustered just 220 yards of total offense, Lewerke threw two costly interceptions to Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas, and the Wolverines tallied three sacks. MSU was dreadful on 3rd down, going just 2-of-13, and the running game was nearly non-existent, totaling 54 yards and averaging 1.8 yards per carry.
While the final score wound up being 44-10, it was just a 17-7 Michigan lead at halftime and the defense slammed the door on any comeback attempt the Spartans thought they had in them.
A necessary beat-down
Offensive lineman Michael Onwenu said earlier this week that the game didn’t have to be close if Michigan executed the way they have the past few weeks. After the game, safety Josh Metellus said the same thing, the game didn’t have to be close. It didn’t have to be, and it wasn’t. Michigan had that mentality heading into The Big House today and they stuck to the message.
Rivalry aside, the Spartans headed into this game battered and wounded, losing four in a row with incredibly loud chatter about whether this will be Mark Dantonio’s last season as head coach. Those variables should have led to a convincing win for Michigan, and that’s exactly what happened.
Michigan dominated a team they should have, and that bodes well for the final two games of the season. The team has something going on right now, things are starting to click. The coaching staff is putting their players in advantageous schemes and the players are executing at a high level. There are still two major hurdles to jump over before the season is over, but the Wolverines are now giving themselves a chance to compete with Ohio State, who are clearly one of the best teams in the nation.
Michigan played a disciplined game with the exception of a few penalties and miscues, and their physicality and toughness over the Spartans is an absolute fact. Will this translate into the same type of performance from them next week and thereafter? We’ll see, but there’s more room for optimism than pessimism at the moment.
If Michigan survives a road trip to Indiana and leaves with a victory, they’ll have gained the momentum necessary to compete with one of only two teams that have beat Jim Harbaugh at The Big House... the Ohio State Buckeyes.