No. 8 Michigan heads into the bye week in much better shape than most expected. The schedule might be weaker than it looked before the year, but to sit at 6-0 after a disastrous 2020 and starting the season unranked is nothing short of impressive. The road ahead is plenty tough, but this team should be up for the challenge.
The differences between this squad and those of recent years, especially last season, are stark across the board. Starting up top, the coaching staff overhaul has clearly made a difference, and having a reliable, albeit unspectacular, quarterback to go with returning stars across the defense is a recipe for success. Here are a few more reasons why this team has been great so far and has a chance to keep it rolling after the bye.
The offense can explode at any minute
Jim Harbaugh would love to handoff the ball every single down and run for four yards a carry if that strategy was capable of working in today’s game. Since clearly that is not the case, modern offenses require big play strikes and the ability to hit home runs to get yards and points quickly. In the past, this simply has not been the case.
Michigan has recently fared terribly when it comes to generating plays of 40 yards or more, ranking 73rd in 2019 with 13 and 90th in 2020 with five in six games. So far this season, the Wolverines sit seventh in the entire country with 12 (!!) such plays already, easily the best rate during Harbaugh’s time in Ann Arbor.
The greatest part of this stat is that the big plays come from all over the offense. Blake Corum has a chance to take it to the house whenever he gets the ball, but Hassan Haskins and Donovan Edwards are just as capable of hitting a long run too. Meanwhile, Cornelius Johnson, A.J. Henning, Mike Sainristil, and Daylen Baldwin all have catches that surpass 50 yards. This sort of explosion has been missing for a long time, but Josh Gattis is finally giving his playmakers a chance to take over.
Forcing opponents into mistakes
Maybe some is due to sloppy play by the opposition, but it should not be overlooked that the Michigan defense has already forced six turnovers in conference play. Should this rate be sustained, it would be a nice improvement from 2018 (14) and 2019 (13) over nine games, and last season which saw just three turnovers all year.
Watching the defense play, this should not be a surprise. The Wolverines are getting after the quarterback and finding some success with the pass rush, which leads to strip sacks and rushed throws. The cornerbacks still have room for growth, but the safeties are stepping up and more interceptions should be on the way. With the offense committing just one non-garbage time turnover of its own, this area is a huge advantage for Michigan that has not always been the case.
A strange confidence in kicking
Michigan fans have not had the easiest time watching the team attempt field goals in recent seasons, with the 2019 team ranking just 73rd in accuracy and last season’s kickers somehow making just 33 percent of their attempts, which of course was nearly the worst mark in the entire country. Even Jake Moody was only 1-for-4, so this year was setting up to be an adventure.
However, Moody has bounced back in a major way, hitting 12 of his 13 attempts and coming up clutch when the score gets tight. His performance at Nebraska was essential for coming away with the win, and there have been few better than him this season; just two teams with at least 10 attempts have a better accuracy mark so far.
There will surely be more high-pressure kicks to come, but Moody deserves a shoutout for turning a typically stressful facet of the game into a strength for the Wolverines. This is yet another area that shows just how different the 2021 team is compared to the train wreck that was last season.