Have you ever been hungover?
A night of over indulgence quickly leads to reeking of a good time passed and departing an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. It is difficult to regroup and put forth your best effort the next day as ‘Carpe Diem’ no longer exists in your conscience as the ‘Sunday Scaries’ seize the wheel.
For the Michigan Wolverines, nothing represents a return to the cold light of sobriety like playing an abysmal Maryland team the week after blowing out a top 10 rival. But despite battling a lethargic haze and decreased motivation, the Wolverines defeated the Terrapins 38-7 and escaped College Park without any injuries.
Shea Patterson & company showed the good and bad of this offense, while mostly avoiding the ugly. Michigan’s balanced attack totaled 331 yards (176 passing, 155 rushing), their lowest total output since the victory over Iowa on October 5.
The offense would flash, sputter, sputter, flash, FLASH, sputter, and repeat some combination of explosions and regressions throughout the afternoon. Michigan’s offensive line slept walk, receivers made mental errors, running backs were impatient, and Patterson struggled to find any rhythm.
Despite this, the offense only committed one penalty (holding on Mike Onwenu) and did not turn the ball over. This team has progressed from uninspired sloppiness to lazy competency in lesser profile games and while that sounds like a slight, it is in fact a good thing.
The Wolverines have come so far as a team that they barely had to get off the bus to win this game. If Michigan from September went to College Park with this level of focus, the stat line would reflect it like this:
Patterson: 14/31, 120 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 3 fumbles (1 lost)
Michigan wins 21-20.
Eventually, the offensive line flexed their muscles, receivers made big plays, running backs found holes, and Patterson delivered the ball with accuracy. The biggest winner, however, has to be the reemergence of senior running back Tru Wilson.
Over the last two weeks, Wilson has averaged 7.5 and 10 yards-per-carry respectively. Is it bad I trust the trio of Wilson, Zach Charbonnet, and Hassan Haskins, more than any trio of receivers? What a weird year.
Michigan’s offense got the job done, but cannot show up like this against Michigan State, Ohio State, or even Indiana for that matter. But scoring 38 (31 specifically on offense), on the road, after blowing out Notre Dame under the lights, I understand the torpidity.
The Wolverines only allowed 233 total yards to the Terrapins, Michigan’s third best performance of the season by that metric. What’s more, 101 of Maryland’s offensive yards came on two drives in the first quarter, that resulted in zero points. That means, across Maryland’s other nine legitimate possessions, the fighting Scott Van Pelt’s only averaged 14.67 yards per drive.
Don Brown’s unit is smothering at the moment and is finding success in ways his previous teams have been crippled. Brown is blitzing less than he ever has at Michigan because this team is consistently generating pressure with only four rushers; something his previous teams have struggled to do consistently.
However, Brown is utilizing Michigan’s defensive versatility to bring a myriad of different four man pressures to continue to place the offenses in positions of confusion.
Brown sometimes rushes the traditional combination of defensive end, tackle, tackle, and end, but very rarely. More often than not, Brown is bringing the heat with a combination of defensive end, tackle, end, and linebacker, with players twisting and looping across various gaps on the offensive line.
The beautiful flexibility of Michigan’s defense can be explained by trying to define who plays what position. Is Josh Uche a defensive end or linebacker? Is Jordan Glasgow a safety or linebacker? Is Aidan Hutchinson the Colossus of Rhodes or The Mountain?
In the end, this is not a defense about positions, it is a defense about dudes.
Don Brown has spent his entire tenure at Michigan developing a defense of dudes to be positionless and to allow the Wolverines to adapt to anything thrown at them. Even crossing routes.
Entering the final quarter of the season, I believe he finally has that.
It’s a real shame Maryland’s only points came on a kick return, but this was still one of the best special teams’ performances Michigan has ever had under Jim Harbaugh & Special Teams Coordinator Chris Partridge.
Giles Jackson returned the opening kick 97 yards and seemingly won the game on the first play. Devin Gil blocked (grazed) a punt and Michael Barrett converted on a fake punt when the Michigan offense needed a spark. Lastly, Quinn Nordin made his first field goal since October 13, 2018. The streak is over.
This was a historic day for the most overlooked part of the game and must be commended. And to Quinn Nordin, a player whom I discussed on a podcast as being able to kick the ball to Canada, but could not accurately pick the province, thank you for this crow to eat.
Frankly, we learned very little from this one performance. The pessimists will talk about the eye test concerns; optimists will argue that a 30 burger margin of victory is an acceptable cushion in any contest.
We are seeing the trends of an offense without self inflicted wounds and a defense with an identity of adaptability. Ultimately, Michigan enters their second BYE week of the season no worse for the wear, with two weeks to prepare for Michigan State. Health is a victory, my friends.
This game was a Sunday morning at church after your best friend’s wedding the night before; you were not leading the choir with inspired renditions of I’ll Fly Away, but you spoke to everyone on the way out and did not lose your lunch in the sanctuary. The Wolverines were sitting in the back pew against Maryland, but were still present enough to capture victory.
Bring on Hate Week.