This week at Maize n Brew, our staff members were asked about the one thing they were expecting or wanting to see from the Michigan Wolverines football team this upcoming season. Below is our band of misfits sharing their thoughts in this week’s staff roundtable.
Good fights on the road. What’s the one thing Michigan hasn’t really done well in the last decade or so? If your first thought was beat Ohio State, you aren’t wrong. But the other thing the Wolverines haven’t done well is win on the road. They start the season at Minnesota, so they have a chance to start their year with a huge victory over a ranked conference opponent on their field. I’d love to see some road grit from Michigan this season.
A consistent effort offensively and defensively for the entire season. Last year, it took the offense a few weeks to heat up and the defense once again collapsed in the moment that matters the most. I’m not clamoring for perfection, but season long competence should be attainable. Oh, and for Joe Milton to play like a combination of Auburn Cam Newton and Jesus.
A competitive team. While Michigan has lost some key pieces, and they are going to play a tough schedule, with the way Michigan has recruited there is no reason they shouldn’t be a top Big Ten team year in and year out. There will be a ton of excuses available if Michigan doesn’t come out and perform well, but that shouldn’t be the case. I want to see this team come out and be solid from the get go. In year No. 2 in Josh Gattis’ offense, this team shouldn’t need to go through the struggles they did the first couple of games of 2019.
Before Josh Gattis started calling plays last season, his offense was getting so much hype around the “Speed in Space” mantra. As we sit right now in college football, and the sport of football in general, offense is the way to win football games, and win them big. Scoring on nearly every possession and keeping the ball for several minutes at a time is the new way is the recipe for dominant performances. There simply aren’t barn burners in big collegiate games anymore and strong defenses are ripped to shreds by more explosive offenses in the nation. It would make coaches like Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes roll in their graves, but at this point, it is a fact.
Look at the National Championship scores in the playoff era. Four of the six champions scored over 40 points to win the title. Last year, all four teams in the playoff ranked in the Top-6 offenses in the country. Conversely, defense played less of a role as Alabama was No. 20 and Oklahoma ranked No. 38 in total defense.
A healthy jump came from the Wolverines’ offense in 2019 as they moved up to No. 68 from their No. 105 ranked offense in 2018, but it still isn’t in the top 50% in the country. Hopefully, in year two of Gattis’ system, with a new man under center, and more receivers who fit his scheme, we will see a continued rise in offensive numbers.
A top-level QB. We’ve now entered the “Harbaugh QB cupboard” season. There are no options outside of the recruits Michigan has gathered while Harbaugh has been the head coach at the position. Given multiple years for Joe Milton to marinate, he has to show out. Add in the fact that McCaffrey is planning on transferring out of the program, if Milton doesn’t perform at a high level, it’s going to be pure chaos from the fanbase, and honestly, I’d be pretty frustrated, as well. Milton playing up to his ceiling will also enable a lot of the young athletes around him and catapults the team from five wins up to potentially seven wins.
A prolific offense. I’m not sure that’s attainable, I’m not going to set the expectation that high, but that’s my answer.
No matter how good a defense is in college football, the College Football Playoff seems to turn into a shootout with the team who wins scoring a lot of points. Michigan needs to do a better job of scoring quickly and consistently. Michigan has a lot of weapons on offense and should be able to string together scoring drives using different personnel groups and different schematics. However, I’m talking elite production. The type of performances you see from Justin Field and company at Ohio State.
A prolific Michigan offense would mean the they can compete with any team in the conference. And man, wouldn’t that be fun?
The three Ps: Progress, poise, potential.
An unpopular take that I have about this season is that I really do see it as building stock for when a “normal” campaign can be played next fall, hopefully. In a weird year with no fans, opt outs, paused eligibility, no win benchmark for bowl games, etc., it’s just hard for me to get too high or too low on this group based on everything that has taken place since they last played on Jan. 1. With as much as this group lost from last year’s team, especially on offense, it’s hard for me to set that high expectation that so many do upon the dawn of a new season. Despite this, I am on the record of having them finishing 6-3/7-2 depending on the crossover game they get in Week 9.
I want to see this team get better every week and avoid the mental mistakes that crippled them when the season started last year. I want to see Joe Milton play like the best quarterback of the Jim Harbaugh era so far. I want to see that the Josh Gattis offense works and that the second wind of this coaching regime has a higher ceiling than the first five years. As has been the case for the last several years, this can be a very good football team if it stays out of its own way.