The Michigan Wolverines have struggled through their first two games of the 2019 season. The offense has not been completely as advertised and the defense certainly is not as strong as it was last year.
Fans and media are in a panic after the Wolverines almost dropped Saturday’s double overtime game to Army, and to be honest, they probably should have lost that ballgame.
With so much negativity swirling around the football team in Ann Arbor, lets focus on the positives of what we have seen from Michigan.
Zach Charbonnet has surpassed expectations
We all knew that Zach Charbonnet was going to be a quality piece of the team this season, but he is having an immediate impact that very few expected. The true freshman has 190 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries (the 13th most in FBS) in his first two games as a Wolverine.
Lots of people projected Charbonnet to be a piece of a running back carousel with Hassan Haskins, Ben VanSumeren, Christian Turner, and Tru Wilson. However, Charbonnet has clearly separated himself from the bunch with his play so far in the year.
Runs like this are exactly why Jim Harbaugh loves what he sees:
This is Charbonnet’s first carry as a Michigan Wolverine. Watch how hard he hits the hole and accelerates into the secondary. A play like this isn’t a one-time occurrence; Charbonnet runs hard every play. Charbonnet is not an East-to-West runner. Instead, he does the dirty work and mashes his way up and through the line of scrimmage.
The best part is he still has the agility and elusiveness to break free and put things into second gear. He hasn’t broken a big one yet, but it will surely come at some point this season.
The closest he has been was this 41-yard run against Middle Tennessee:
First off, I love this play call. This is a make-shift triple option play. Patterson could hand it off to the streaking Ronnie Bell for an outside handoff, keep the ball himself and go towards the opposite sideline, or hand the ball off to Charbonnet for a run up the middle.
Patterson makes the correct read as the corner and the safety at the top of your screen bite on the fake handoff to Bell, and Charbonnet just has to get through the line of scrimmage for a big gain with no safety to help over the top.
Not only can Charbonnet break off for some big runs, but he can also protect the quarterback on passing downs. He had seven rush pick ups against MTSU and had this really nice play in protection against Army:
Charbonnet fearlessly goes right up to a blitzing linebacker in the middle of the offensive line and puts him on his butt. I love the toughness of this kid and the complete package that he brings to the table.
The offense has had its moments
Josh Gattis is already getting thrown under the bus for the offensive struggles, but people need to slow down. I have really liked what I have seen from playcalling and Urban Meyer even pointed out how difficult this Michigan offense should be schematically.
The main issue of this offense is that the players are not executing the plays that are being called. Now that does fall on the offensive coordinator, but you can’t deny that drives have been killed by messy turnovers which is on the fault of the players.
A perfect example of this is the very first drive of the near upset against Army. The Wolverines had two 10 plus yard gains in their first four plays.
Here is one of those plays on a quick slant to Tarik Black:
This is not an RPO, but rather a play-action pass with no intention of running the football. Still, both Army linebackers bite on the run and the slant to Black is wide open in the center of the field for an easy 12 yards.
The Wolverines were on their way to the redzone, and potentially a scoring drive, before this happened...
I have seen a lot of play calls that I really, really like from Gattis. But, I think in the desperation of this game, Harbaugh took the playcalling over and called the monotonous, repetitious, and obvious runs up the gut that we saw towards the back end of the game.
The same thing could be said in the second half of the MTSU game after Shea Patterson sat out in favor of Dylan McCaffrey. The Wolverines threw the ball 25 times in the first half compared to just 6 pass attempts in the second. Harbaugh was desperate without his No. 1 QB in the game.
There is a lot of season left, and there is still hope that a more advanced offensive scheme can be shown throughout an entire ballgame.
The secondary has looked sturdy
Many were concerned with the cornerback position heading into the 2019 football season, but both Ambry Thomas and Vincent Gray have impressed in their first games as role players in the secondary.
Gray made this very impressive play in week one against MTSU on the goal line:
Gray instantly recognized this play and got out to the sideline to cover the slot receiver who went out into the flat and created a one-on-one with Gray in the open field. IT’s certainly a tough play to defend on the goal line, but Gray made the tackle and finished the excellent play.
Thomas himself had a very similar play on an attempted screen play.
Like Gray, Thomas follows his receiver and doesn’t get lost on the screen play. He had great closing speed and made an open field tackle.
Tackling in the open field is a great indicator of how talented a corner is going to be. These are the situations that every offensive coordinator wants to create for their wide receivers so seeing these sorts of plays (even against weaker competition) is important to see out of these second-year members of the Michigan secondary.
Whether they deserve to be or not, Michigan is 2-0 and the hope of a College Football Playoff appearance is still alive because of it. The Wolverines are still working their way into a new offense and now have a bye week before a huge game against a ranked Wisconsin Badger football team.
The team has a lot to learn and clean up, but are still very much capable of making this an excellent season.