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Position Unit Grades: Defense earns high marks, offense trending in wrong direction

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Credit goes to Don Brown’s defense for a near-textbook effort against the triple option. The offense? Not so much.

Dustin Johnston / Maize n Brew

Michigan held off an Army upset for an ugly 24-21 double-overtime win on Saturday in Ann Arbor and now the grades are in from the performance for each position group.

Let’s get into it.

Quarterback: C+

Patterson is getting roasted on social media by a vocal minority of the fanbase, but even those who are his biggest defenders will admit that he is not playing the type of game he is capable of right now, whether it be in his head or an undisclosed injury. The first fumble of the game he had was completely unacceptable and cannot happen, but it was really his only major mistake of the day. The second fumble he never saw coming due to a missed block that led to blindside pressure that he never saw.

Take away the turnovers, and he still was just ok on the day. A lot of his throws do not seem to have the same zip on them that we saw last season and there were a handful of completions where even his targets had to make a minor adjustment that may have cost them a few yards. The one that hurt the most was a pass down the left slideline to Ronnie Bell that went just a little bit too long, even if it went off of his fingertips (for the second week in a row). Patterson’s reads also seemed inconsistent and if that was not the case and it was truly designed for him not to keep the ball on a lot of the option plays they ran, perhaps the playcalling needs to come into question.

Patterson is not the biggest thing holding the team back right now, but he is not exactly elevating them either. This job is still his by a wide margin, but if anyone wants to make a push for the job, they had better step up in the next two weeks. Right now, the Wolverines are not getting championship-caliber play from its quarterback.

Running Backs: B

Zach Charbonnet won the day with 33 carries for 100 yards and the first three touchdowns of his career, but it was an otherwise difficult day for the backs after a strong showing in Week 1. Christian Turner whiffed on a block that led to a Patterson fumble on pressure he never saw coming and Ben VanSumeren fumbled away the ball on his only carry of the game.

Michigan averaged 2.4 yard per carry on the afternoon, an average that is affected by Patterson’s eight rushes for minus-18 yards. Even if you remove that from the equation, the Wolverines still were only able to manage 3.4 yards per carry on the day. Charbonnet looks like a future star and every bit the tough runner we thought he’d be, but Michigan won’t win a lot of games rushing for as little as they did per carry on Saturday afternoon.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+

Ronnie Bell led the team with seven catches for 81 yards and would have had an eighth catch that went for much more if a throw from Patterson off his fingertips was placed a little more accurately. Other than that, there was not much to see here on Saturday whether it be by design or guys simply not playing as well as they could.

One thing is for sure and that is that a combined five catches (on 10 targets) from Tarik Black and Nico Collins is not good enough with Donovan Peoples-Jones still out of the lineup. Collins is the most gifted and well-rounded of the bunch and has to be made more of a priority. Perhaps a little more concerning is that it does not seem like the wideouts are getting a heck of a lot of separation at the moment and have to find ways to get open down the field more consistently.

Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks have been solid as a duo overall and look like they can be pretty consistent safety blankets for the Michigan offense,

Offensive Line: C

This is the biggest concern that we have seen emerge from the first two games of the season. Things are a little bit different up front for the offensive line compared to last season with a new offense, and some struggles are to be expected with two redshirt freshman currently playing at the tackle spots, but the Wolverines have three upperclassmen All-Big Ten performers on the interior of the offensive line and on Saturday they were unable to get a consistent enough push in the run game and were inconsistent with the pass blocking on the day. Army is a physical football team, but this is an experienced front that is not playing the best football they can right now. Offensive line was an issue early last season and they put it together as the year went on, so we should still expect them to do the same, but penalties and getting pushed around by teams they should be somewhat imposing their will against is a big concern heading into Big Ten play where games are won and lost in the trenches.

Defense: A-

Usually we would break this down into each position group, but with a unique challenge on Saturday in defending the triple option that also came with some different looks and responsibilities, we group this unit into one whole for this edition of the grades.

For the most part, it was a workmanlike effort from all three levels of the defense and a well-done job by Don Brown getting these guys ready to play. Often times, defending the triple option is a pass/fail grade and Michigan passed the test of its defenses wherewithal on Saturday. Aidan Hutchinson and Lavert Hill would get my game balls on the defensive side for Saturday for impact plays that helped to hold off the Army upset. The defensive tackle rotation still feels like a bit of a concern and there were a handful of breakdowns here and there, but they did a solid job, all things considered.

Special Teams: B

A muffed punt and a missed field goal will lower your grade in this department, and there was also at least one kick return where just one more block could have resulted in a larger gain for Giles Jackson. Overall, Jake Moody continues trend in the battle for the starting kicker job and made both of his extra point attempts and the game-winning field goal in the second overtime.

A fake punt called at the perfect time worked for the Wolverines, as well. The team needed a lift, Dax Hill saw that he was uncovered, and Camaron Cheeseman sent a direct snap the way of Mike Barrett, a former high school quarterback, for a 25-yard gain. That set up Michigan’s first scoring drive and injected a little bit of life into the Wolverines early in the game.

Coaching: C+

Throughout the Harbaugh era, his teams have been notorious for getting off to slow starts against some of the better teams on the schedule and Army is one of those teams, coming into this week on the cusp of the top-25. Defensively, the team was locked in for most of the day and ready to go, but some of the offensive problems continued with sloppy play, penalties and turnovers.

And therein lies where this grade comes from. Josh Gattis’ debut as Michigan’s offensive coordinator last week was not perfect, but it was fine and it was clear they came into the game with a checklist of things they wanted to put on film. For the most part on Saturday, the gameplan and approach was actually fine, as well. Michigan set out to keep Army’s offense off the field with some ball control of their own, which predictably led to social media going aflame because the Wolverines were running their “old” and “broken” offense from the last few seasons. The problem was not in its approach, but in some of the conservative second half playcalling and the lack of execution of said plays. As we said before, breakdowns on the offensive line led to most of this, but through two weeks, we have not seen a ton of speed, nor a ton of space.

Michigan has two bonafide studs at wide receiver in Black and Collins, not to mention Donovan Peoples-Jones when he returns. The tight ends have playmaking ability. Charbonnet is a guy who can do it all. The quick slants and RPOs from last week worked, but they went away from it and seemed to be happy with hammering away for much of the game. Again, it is not a thought process that was flawed, but it just did not look as if Gattis had much of a feel for things in the second half. He’s going to struggle sometimes being a first-time playcaller as well, but hopefully they can take the good from the first two weeks of the year and build from it.

Preparation and execution will define this football team. It has not always been there in big moments and it nearly cost them a win on Saturday. That is on the coaching staff, whether they publicly take responsibility for it or not.

Michigan right now is a football program that cannot stay out of its own way. It is a trend that Harbaugh and his staff need to find a way to reverse or be damned to more of the same results.