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How the Michigan Wolverines learned to stop worrying and love the red zone

Examining every play inside the red zone over the final four games of Michigan’s season.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Michigan Wolverines had issues scoring touchdowns in the red zone? (cue the member berries.) While Lou Groza Award finalist and Michigan kicker Jake Moody is a valuable weapon to the team, capping off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals became imperative to success over the final four games.

After the Michigan State game which saw Moody kick four field goals in a four-point defeat, and the Indiana game which saw him kick three in a less than inspired offensive performance, something had to change.

Over the final four games, Michigan scored touchdowns on 17-of-19 possessions inside the red zone. While balanced play calling and overall execution were catalysts to the improved success, the biggest key was better starting position inside the 20-yard line.

Let’s take a closer look at each possession.

Penn State (Two red zone trips; one touchdown)

  • On the first red zone possession on the 13-yard line, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis dialed up a quick-hitting wheel route to tight end Erick All to get the ball down to the one-yard line. Michigan hurried to the line — with everyone thinking inside run — and quarterback Cade McNamara completed a one-yard seam pass to wide receiver Roman Wilson.
  • The second trip to the red zone resulted in the only play better than a touchdown scoring-play: the kneel down in victory formation.

Maryland (Six red zone trips; five touchdowns)

  • On Michigan’s first trip into the red zone against Maryland, it continued with the Penn State theme: throw the damn ball. From the 17-yard line, another swing pass — this time to running back Donovan Edwards — to set up the Wolverines at the two-yard line. Another fake to Haskins and this time McNamara connected with tight end Luke Schoonmaker on a quick out route.
  • BULLY ALERT: The second trip to the red zone offered a glimpse of the physicality that would become a trademark in these final few weeks. Beginning at the four-yard line, Haskins once and then Haskins a second time for a touchdown.
  • Quarterback J.J. McCarthy added some spice on the Wolverines’ third trip. McCarthy connected with wide receiver Mike Sainristil who made a circus, one-handed reception from 13 yards out.
  • Driving to close the first half, Michigan was again in business in the red zone. McNamara completed a three-yard pass to Edwards to set up at the Maryland six-yard line. However, an untimely chop blocking penalty that negated a touchdown to Roman Wilson set the Wolverines back 15 yards. Kicker Jake Moody knocked home a 39-yarder with four seconds remaining in the half. This would be Michigan’s only field goal attempt in its final four games.
  • BULLY ALERT: On its fifth trip, Michigan returned to its physicality. Beginning on the five-yard line, Gattis called on Haskins once, twice, and this time, Haskins thrice after a defensive holding penalty on third down. Touchdown, Wolverines.
  • Lastly, after a turnover on downs, McCarthy capped off Michigan’s scoring with a five-yard rushing touchdown. After fumbling the snap, McCarthy picked up the ball, hit the edge, lowered the shoulder and found his way into the end zone.

Ohio State (Seven red zone trips; six touchdowns)

  • On the first drive of the game and first play inside the red zone, Gattis dials up a fake swing pass, reverse to wide receiver A.J. Henning who flies around the edge to the end zone from 14 yards out.
  • After a quick three-and-out for Ohio State, Michigan is in business on the the 15-yard line. Unfortunately, miscommunication between the first option receiver and the quarterback leads to McNamara forcing a pass into the middle of the field that is intercepted. This would be the last throw attempted inside the red zone.
  • BULLY ALERT: After setting up shop at the two-yard line, Gattis wastes no time establishing dominance after the previous drive’s fatal miscue. This time it is Hassan Haskins once, and then Hassan Haskins twice. Touchdown.
  • After stopping Ohio State to begin the second half, the Wolverines got to work. All it took was two plays for Blake Corum to set up Haskins again in the red zone. From the 13-yard line trailing tight end All all the way to the promised land, Haskins punched it in.
  • With a chance to open up their lead to two scores, Michigan turned to youth and experience. McCarthy ran from the six-yard line down to the one-yard line. Again, Mr. Haskins punches it in following his tight ends around the edge.
  • BULLY ALERT: The Buckeyes had just cut it to a one score game and Michigan needed to respond. Set up at the 14-yard line, Gattis returned to the ground again. Corum ran for nine yards to set up Haskins once, Haskins twice, and then another Haskins touchdown.
  • BULLY ALERT: Haskins ran the ball five straight times starting from the Michigan 38-yard line. His one carry inside the red zone came at the four-yard line after hurdling a hopeless Buckeye defender. Of course it resulted in his fifth touchdown of the day.

Iowa (Four red zone trips; four touchdowns)

  • While it took until the second half for any plays inside the red zone, the Wolverines kept with Haskins on their first trip. One rush from the four-yard line is all it took.
  • A second red zone attempt, a second Haskins touchdown, this time from the one-yard line. This marked Haskins’ 20th rushing touchdown, which is a single season record for the University of Michigan.
  • The third trip into the red zone required the most plays to reach the end zone: three. Corum took the ball five yards to the five-yard line, McNamara threw an incompletion, and then connected to tight end All who made a one-handed reception representative of backyard football with a younger sibling.
  • BULLY ALERT: Set up at the three-yard line after a penalty, Michigan went physical again, but this time with the true freshman Edwards carrying the ball. Edwards once and then Edwards twice over the top for the final Michigan touchdown en route to becoming Big Ten Champions.