Michigan Football has a pair of wins on the season and is unblemished on the win-loss record with a 2-0 mark heading into the bye week, but there are several aspects of this team that simply are not good enough if they are going to compete for any sort of hardware this season.
Fans and analysts have not been impressed with the performances so far, and they are right to feel that way. A win is a win, but even with some of the newness of the offense and the youth of the football team, Michigan has not gotten off to the start that was expected of them. The good news is a bye week is here and there are a lot of things they can do to look in the mirror and move forward in their progression as a football team.
Here are the team’s biggest issues ranked from most concerning to least heading into the “improvement week.”
1. Mental mistakes, above all else
Michigan has five turnovers in the first two games of the season and are lucky they have been able to even things out with mistakes they have capitalized on from the other team, having forced five turnovers of their own.
You cannot just pick a stat out of the box score and say “if only (blank) was cleaned up, it would be different” because we have no way of knowing what those branched-off realities look like. However, it seems like simply coming ready to play and being focused could go a long way in improving this football team. It does not feel like a hot take to suggest if one of the reckless turnovers is removed from the Army game, Michigan probably wins in regulation by two scores.
Slow starts and self-inflicted wounds have become as synonymous with Michigan as the winged helmet and the block M, and I’m not sure how you change it. But the failure to execute at the most basic levels of the game in crucial situations has to be the biggest emphasis for this team moving forward.
Good teams get one or two bad performances a year. Players have to execute, but Jim Harbaugh and his staff have to have them ready to play. We have seen the damage that slow starts and unprepared teams can do in the biggest games on the schedule. Go out and reverse the narratives or be damned to an eternity of everyone questioning everything you do.
2. Underwhelming offensive line play
There were always going to be some hiccups offensively early on and anyone who thought it would be flawless is kidding themselves, but the most jarring offensive struggle to this point is not who has been under center, but instead an offensive line with three All-Big Ten-caliber guys (four when Jon Runyan Jr. returns) on the interior who have failed to get a consistent push against teams with weaker fronts than them. It is understandable redshirt freshmen at the tackle spots would struggle a bit early on as they continue to develop and get their feet wet, but there have been too many breakdowns, not enough movement and a frustrating amount of pre-snap penalties that is currently holding this group back.
The most comforting thing about the offensive line is that help is on the way with the return of Runyan and they are coached by one of the best in the game in Ed Warinner. Of all of their issues, it feels like this one is the most likely to get sorted out, but still has been a disappointment early on.
3. Inconsistent quarterbacking
Simply put, Michigan is not getting championship-level play out of its quarterbacks so far this year, headlined by Shea Patterson’s ball security issues and what feels like may be some slow reads in the option game early in the season. He was injured in the opener and has not quite looked like himself, and there has not been as much zip on his throws as we are used to seeing from him. Things are not mentally processing quick enough, which again might be something that just needs time to develop in a new offense.
That said, the accuracy has been inconsistent and there have been bunches of passes in both games that were either a bit too out of reach for his targets or that his receivers had to adjust to and perhaps sacrifice yards to secure receptions.
There is not a legitimate quarterback battle happening right now even with the staff trying to find ways to get Dylan McCaffrey on the field. That more has to do with the profile he brings to the table athletically as opposed to what he brings to the table as a dual-threat quarterback. He still has a ways to go in his development as a passer, but if he or Joe Milton are capable of making a serious push for the job, now is the time to do it and maybe the staff should do a bit more to get them ready. This is still Patterson’s job to lose moving forward, but he can lose it if he continues to have a loose grip of the football and does not provide the spark the offense needs.
Patterson has not been very good, nor has he been terrible. But “fine” is not good enough.
4. Interior defensive line
Defensive line depth was circled as a strength coming into the year, but the interior of that unit has been underwhelming through the first two games of the year. Yes, Donovan Jeter and Michael Dwumfour have been hurt and they have had to rely on a guy like Ben Mason, a former fullback, to help out Carlo Kemp. But the play there overall has been weak and nobody has really emerged as someone who can be disruptive on the inside.
This bye week is huge to fix a lot of mistakes, but it might also be beneficial to true freshmen Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith to start making a legitimate push for playing time. Their coaches have said when they do the things expected of them, they will play. Like we said about the quarterbacks, if there is a push for playing time to be made, now is the time to do it.
5. Wide receivers struggling to separate
Some of the passing game’s struggles stem from the wide receivers having problems getting consistently open down the field, which is concerning given the first two opponents the Wolverines have gone up against. Tarik Black and Nico Collins have far and away been the best two wideouts on the team, but do not have the targets to show for it. Part of that is on the quarterback, but those guys have to hold up on their end of the bargain, as well.
One would expect this one gets sorted out, too, especially when Donovan Peoples-Jones returns to the field. These guys are just too good for it not to develop. If that ball comes out quick and we see the slants and some of the other RPO passes that have worked through the first two weeks, those guys should be fine.
6. Special teams
Special teams has largely been clean. Will Hart is arguably the nation’s best punter. Michigan will eventually settle on a kicker and things will even out there between Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin, with the former feeling like the leader. Muffed punts should not be an issue once Peoples-Jones returns should they decide to stick him back out there. That said, missed kicks and muffed punts change games and lose games. Of everything on this list, this one is sort of tacked on, but also one that should be the most easily improved once a kicker is picked and DPJ is back in the fold.
I also did this content piece in podcast form, which you can hear below as a segment in our daily podcast schedule.
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How would you rank what needs to be improved? Sound off in the comments below.