Michigan Football moved to 2-0 on the season in a 24-21 double-overtime win over Army. The defense did a good job most of the day. And then a lot of other things happened.
No need for fluff. Let’s get into the takeaways.
Michigan’s quarterback conundrum
The best, most positive way I can describe how Shea Patterson has performed through two games this season is that he’s been alright with room for improvement. At worst, the turnover bug is biting in a big way and his decision making a lot to be desired.
Patterson is not an awful quarterback. He is not even a bad quarterback. But the question that Michigan must ask itself is if what they are getting out of him is good enough. His reads were sporadic and it does not seem like he has a lot of zip on his throws right now. He finished the day 19-for-29 for 207 yards and had a pair of fumbles. The first was egregious and one that totally falls on him, while the other he never had a shot with Christian Turner failing to pick up a corner blitz, which led to blindside pressure that Patterson never saw.
Even with the 19 completions, there were probably a good four-to-five that his targets had to adjust to that may have led to some extra yardage if placed on the money. He had a completion over the middle field to Ronnie Bell in the redzone that I’m still not sure how it got there.
The talent is there, but he seems to be in his head right now, whether that has to do with injuries or hearing footsteps and the cries for Dylan McCaffrey. If McCaffrey is better as so many people seem to think he is in this fanbase, the time to make a push to play is now because the starting quarterback is not playing championship-caliber football. This is still Patterson’s job and we did not see the rotating this week and McCaffrey only had a single pass attempt.
If he’s better, then show it. Because right now, the quarterback position is not the strength of this football team.
What is this Michigan offense?
My line last week in here was that Michigan certainly has a new offense, but it is one that has a multiple personality disorder currently.
Patterson’s struggles and the turnover woes overshadow what was, for the second week in a row, a Michigan offense with an inconsistent identity and subpar production throughout much of the afternoon. The Wolverines came into the contest with what was clearly a throwback gameplan to previous Harbaugh years, as they wanted to put the ball on the ground more and grind out the clock on their own to keep Army’s triple option attack off the field.
Unless we’re all stupid, which many of us certainly are but a lot of the observers of this game are not, Michigan ran the option a lot today, yet Patterson rarely kept the ball and it most of the time led to Zach Charbonnet running right into the teeth of the Army defense without much going there outside of making some people miss here and there. The Wolverines as a team ran the ball 45 times compared to 31 pass attempts on the afternoon.
Michigan was at its most successful once again moving the football when they called passing plays that got the ball out of Patterson’s hands quickly. Yet it still seems like Josh Gattis may not entirely trust his signal-caller, as they defaulted to the run game on numerous occasions when it may have been the wrong call.
Harbaugh said after the game that they went with the “plays that were called” in regards to the offensive approach today and took issue with questions about the philosophy on Saturday.
Jim Harbaugh said they ran the ball as much as they did because those were the “plays that were called.” Says you can make that argument in any football game. pic.twitter.com/WcQUSg0bcH— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) September 7, 2019
Harbaugh seemed to distance himself from the playcalling and got a bit defensive after the game, calling the question from The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner “low-hanging fruit.”
All takes aside, there is a disconnect right now between Harbaugh and Gattis as to what this offense can be. They can say that this was all part of the plan, but if that was truly the plan, the plan stunk and people have every right to be frustrated after a summer full of “Speed in Space” hype.
Have not seen a ton of speed, nor a ton of space. That needs to change.
Feed Charbonnet and Nico Collins
A quick thought to add to the offensive takeaways section is that Michigan has two bonafide and proven playmakers through two weeks in running back Zach Charbonnet (who had his first career 100 yard game and three touchdowns on 33 carries) and wide receiver Nico Collins. Donovan Peoples-Jones coming back after the bye could be a huge lift for them, but those two need to be made an emphasis as this team puts its gameplans together moving forward. It took some poor plays from Turner and Ben VanSumeren to get Charbonnet the load he deserves, but seeing as he scored all three touchdowns on the day, it seems as if he is the real deal.
Offensive and defensive line regression
There is not a lot to say here until we watch the tape again, but it looked and felt like Michigan was beaten soundly on the interior on both sides of the football, which was disappointing given that reinforcements returned on defense this week. Carlo Kemp turned it on late in the game, along with Aidan Hutchinson, who nearly single-handedly thwarted the upset bid. But that Michigan was pushed around by guys there were by and large smaller than them on both sides of the ball is something that needs to improve.
This especially applies to the offensive line, as Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu have to be better there. They are All-Big Ten caliber performers, but have been mostly just okay through the first two weeks of the year. The offense is new for them and they will settle into some of their new responsibilities eventually, but it was at least a little concerning through the first two games.
Defending the triple option
Coming into this game, Army’s triple option attack was by far the biggest fear. And for the most part, Michigan did a tremendous job on the day. Two of the touchdowns that Army scored came off of the turnovers (again) and the other came in overtime. The Black Knights ran the ball 61 times for 200 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and only popped a big run of 31-yards once in the game. Now, 3.3 yards at a time is kind of how a team like this operates, but Michigan did its part in getting off the field when it had to and made big plays. Don Brown deserves a ton of credit for that.
The biggest play of the game may have saved Michigan’s season so far with Lavert Hill atoning for last week’s dropped interception with one he held onto in the redzone today with Army ready to convert and go up two scores. It feels like Michigan did as good a job as it could have sans a few miscues and untimely penalties, which were still harmful and cannot happen.
Gun, meet foot (again)
One of the most disturbing trends of the Harbaugh era is that when going up against the best teams on the schedule (and even sometimes the lesser ones), the Wolverines start slow and either get punched in the mouth or make some horrible mistakes, or both. That was the case in the first half with three lost fumbles. And everyone wants to change the quarterback, or change the personnel on the field, or bench somebody. Where the frustrations should lie is with Harbaugh and his staff. Think of how many times Michigan has played a legitimately good football team and come out right off the bat and looked like they were ready to play a football game.
You might be able to do it on less than one hand.
I don’t know how it gets fixed or how it exactly falls on Harbaugh other than when it continues to happen, it’s reflective of his ability to prepare his guys.
Last week’s errors could have easily been chalked up to nerves or just a blip on the radar for sloppiness, and I told you last week it does not become a concern until it becomes a trend. Well, two games is a sixth of a football season and Patterson’s turnovers and shoddy playcalling are a bit of a trend now. They have two weeks to fix it or else they will go to Camp Randall and get punched in the mouth.
Lost in all of this is that Army is a terrific football team that looks like it will probably win another 10 or 11 games after 21 wins over the last two seasons. They came play on Saturday and their effort was terrific. And Michigan’s effort in sticking with them and not giving in was admirable, too. A win is a win, but this type of win is not good enough. Not for a school that fancies itself a Big Ten and College Football Playoff contender. Like the near-upset of Oklahoma last year, Army was able to lure a team into a bar fight by capitalizing on mistakes. Michigan played the type of game that Army thrives in, so they were thrilled with the sloppy play of the Wolverines.
This is not a championship-caliber football team right now. It might not even be one that can win nine games in this Big Ten, but that is where the improvements have to come. This team is plenty talented and we get glimpses of some really good stuff when it works, but the self-inflicted wounds will make this other disappointing season for Michigan football that likely results in more losses to rivals and without and hardware at the end of the game.
If Harbaugh and Gattis are satisfied with the offensive effort through the first two weeks of the season, that would obviously be concerning. It is so hard to learn a new offense, especially when it is a departure from the old ways of thinking, but the old ways returned on Saturday afternoon and it is not good enough. Somebody needs to step up and take responsibility for their struggles.
Nobody is asking for Harbaugh to throw his quarterback and OC under a bus, but let’s make the acknowledgement that things need to be better.
With a bye week and a trip to Wisconsin looming, a lot of growing up has to happen really fast.