Somehow, this might not even be rock bottom, but there have been few worse moments for the Michigan Wolverines than on Saturday night. Absolutely nothing was working against Wisconsin on either side of the ball, and it is difficult to see where things get better over the second half of the season.
Any time a team loses three games in a row there will be plenty of problems to point out, but rarely have we seen Michigan fall to this level. The program has never been this weak under Jim Harbaugh before, and it is going to take some sort of miracle to turn things around. Saturday did bring one potential area of hope, however, and that is the place to start the discussion.
Who is the better option at quarterback?
I was always in favor of Dylan McCaffrey, but even I started dreaming about the future after watching the debut of Joe Milton. That feels like a long time ago now, and Saturday was a downright rough performance from the redshirt sophomore. With just 98 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions, the coaches had no choice but to turn to Cade McNamara.
Admittedly, I did not buy a word the coaches said about the redshirt freshman during camp. Whenever a coaching staff talks about how players are both lighting up practice, it seems like a motivational tactic more often than not, so I had no reason to believe McNamara was anything special. For a first collegiate drive, though, he was about as perfect as could be, connecting on three 20-plus-yard passes to give Michigan its lone touchdown of the game.
The takes are hot coming out of the weekend, with many believing McNamara gives the Wolverines the best chance to succeed. This is a TRICK. While Milton was bad against the Badgers, it seems far too soon to pull the plug. Remember that the offense has been missing both tackles, the running game is useless, and the pass catchers are not exactly helping Milton out, regardless of how hard he throws.
While Milton has been far from perfect, this next month is the right time to let him continue to grow and gain valuable experience. Cade McNamara is not saving this program; he had one good drive — followed by one bad one — and has a nowhere near the ceiling his competitor offers. Give me a month more of Milton so we can see if he deserves another chance next season after a (somewhat) full year of reps.
Is this the start of a disaster for the run defense?
Even though Michigan was not good against Michigan State and Indiana, the one unit that did its job was the run defense. None of the Wolverines’ first three opponents ran for over 3.5 yards a carry, and while there were a few touchdowns scored on the ground in those games, that is not what caused the two losses.
The same could not be said against Wisconsin. Even with a new team composition centered around an impressive quarterback without a fearsome runner such as in years past, the Badgers decided to attack the Wolverines as they always do and it worked out perfectly. Despite rushing for just 131 yards against lowly Illinois, Wisconsin dominated on the ground on Saturday, putting up 341 yards for five scores at 6.7 yards a carry.
The reason why this is a TREND is partially due to injuries. While being without Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson limits the defense’s ability to get after the passer, it also hurts against the run, both by losing strong edge presences and by forcing some reshuffling along the line. The Wolverines were going to be suspect on the interior even with their best players healthy, so it is hard to see how the defensive line is going to be able to stop any decent running attacks for the rest of the year, even if Paye returns. Consider this game the start of a new issue for the defense.