The Michigan Wolverines had a hectic game on Saturday night in the opener against Middle Tennessee State. It certainly was not a pretty opening performance by the No. 7 ranked Wolverines, and some fans immediately questioned the new offensive system under a new offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, especially after Michigan fumbled the ball a handful of times in the new set.
The efficient RPO and big play offense was short0lived but it was really exciting to watch. The Michigan offense threw the football 25 times in the first half, but only six times in the second half.
Now, part of that was because of the shift from Shea Patterson running the offense to Dylan McCaffrey being behind center, but it seemed like the Wolverines may have been holding out a bit of the playbook in a game that was already decided.
But, Michigan did show flashes of what this scheme is truly capable of, and the pinnacle of that was in the late-first, early-second quarter where Patterson completed six straight passes and went 4-for-4 with 104 yards and 2 touchdowns in back-to-back series.
The mainstay was Patterson hitting on RPO’s in the second quarter. (For those of us who are seeing that acronym all over the place and don’t know what it means, it stands for Run-Pass Option. The quarterback has the option to hand the ball off to the running back or keep it and hit a quick pass, deciding on what the signal-caller sees on his initial read).
We saw this on consecutive plays early in the second quarter where Patterson hit Tarik Black on quick slants down the middle of the field.
The first was an RPO with Zach Charbonnet taking a fake handoff left. This caught the corner covering Black (No. 3 in white) hesitating while he thought Charbonnet would take the ball. Watch as Black is given a little bit of space that could have led to a much bigger play (and eventually will).
Nick Eubanks slows down on the right side of the field. If he would have kept running, he may have ran the safety over the middle out of the way, leaving a ton of space for Black to move. Instead, Reed Blankenship (No. 12 in white) made the tackle and limited Black to just a couple of yards.
Gattis went to a very similar play on the corresponding first down. Once again it was an RPO with a fake handoff left to Charbonnet. You can see Blankenship (No. 12) show blitz, leaving a considerable amount of space between Black and any Blue Raider defender. The Middle Tennessee middle linebacker bit on the fake handoff, leaving Black wide open.
When the ball gets to Black’s hands, there are no defenders within seven yards of him and he has the #SpeedInSpace that Gattis preached all offseason.
The very next play was a 28-yard touchdown to Nico Collins on a designed play-action. Middle Tennessee was in a Cover 2 man-to-man defense with two safeties playing zone coverage over the top on either side of the offense.
No. 12 (Blankenship) doesn’t stay over the top (on the left side) because he sees his middle linebacker struggling to get to Eubanks in the flat. That leaves Collins in one-on-one coverage with a much inferior Middle Tennessee cornerback (No. 3). Patterson just has to lob the ball up to him leading to an easy touchdown for the taller and more athletic Michigan wideout.
Simply put, this was the perfect drive for the Michigan Wolverines. They went four plays for 67 yards and a touchdown in just over a minute of game time. An offense that efficient and that fast can do a lot of damage to opposing defenses.
If the Maize and Blue can replicate drives like this multiple times throughout the course of a game, they can (and will) put up big numbers against even some of the best teams in the country. It will all boil down to the execution of Gattis’ new system, and if Michigan can get it down, they could be one of the most prolific passing offenses in the country.