Never apologize for a victory. There are going to be a lot of complaints about Michigan in regard to this game, but it goes in the books as a win and moves the Wolverines to 4-1 on the year. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when this would have been a loss because the offense never would have been able to mount enough momentum to score 20 points in a comeback attempt. In the post-2011 Brady Hoke years, the defense would have played well, the offense would have put up 10-13 points, and then the D would have cracked from having to be on the field forever.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.
Nico Collins isn’t a #1 WR. Or if he is, Michigan is in trouble. Camp rumors were that Collins looked like the best receiver on the team, which I had a hard time believing based on what we had seen from Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones. When Collins came out of high school, he looked like a big guy with decent speed who didn’t have a ton of polish. And at least in this game, that’s exactly what he looked like. He’s had some big plays in the passing game earlier this year, but they were deep throws down the middle of the field. When the game of football requires more nuance, he’s not ready. Some examples:
- In the first half, Michigan threw him a now screen (more on that later) on 3rd-and-2. The 6’4″, 218 lb. Collins stood there . . . and waited for two guys to think he was invisible . . . then made a feeble attempt to get the first down and failed.
- With time running down in the first half, Collins caught the ball on the left sideline and could have easily run out of bounds to save some clock. He seemed to make an attempt to stay on the field of play, got tackled inbounds, and saw precious time tick away.
- In the second half, he made a leaping attempt to catch a pass and got possession of it, but instead of displaying field awareness and dragging a toe on the green grass, he stomped both of his feet on the sideline, making it an incompletion.
- Later he caught a pass with some room to run over the middle, tried to shimmy and shake laterally, and got dragged down a few yards shy of the first down.
Black is out with a broken foot, and Peoples-Jones missed some time in the first half with a hip flexor issue, so I understand that Michigan was looking to Collins more out of necessity. But with the spotlight shining on him, he made a lot of mental mistakes. He needs to understand that he’s 6’4″ and 218 lbs., so he can’t be a finesse player. Hopefully he will learn from his mistakes in this game, because obviously Michigan is going to need him to perform well if they want to be successful down the stretch.
No more now screens to Nico Collins. This isn’t really Collins’s fault – it’s a scheme issue, which falls on the coaches. But several times this year, Michigan has run now screens to Collins out of a trips formation when Collins is the #1 receiver closest to the sideline. (Definition of a now screen: QB immediately takes the snap and throws to a WR with the same-side WRs immediately blocking the most dangerous defenders.) Collins is probably literally the worst realistic option for that play, because he hasn’t shown the elusiveness to make people miss or the willingness to run over/stiff-arm smaller defenders. Players I would rather see catch the ball in that situation: Peoples-Jones, Grant Perry, Ronnie Bell, Jake McCurry, Zach Gentry. At least those guys have some suddenness to them or, in Gentry’s case, the size and willingness to use said size.
Michigan sucks at running the ball. Northwestern is decent on defense, but they’re not that good. Michigan couldn’t do anything on the ground in their basic running game. There was a succession of sets of downs in the second half that basically went like this:
- 1st-and-10: Higdon 1-yard run
- 2nd-and-9: Higdon 3-yard run
- 3rd-and-6: Shea Patterson scramble or short throw for a first down
Michigan won’t run the ball to the right, despite having 350 lb. right guard Michael Onwenu and 330 lb. Juwann Bushell-Beatty over there. Instead, they run counters and powers to the left, which require the 350 lb. Onwenu to pull from the backside and make blocks effectively on the playside. Higdon ended up with 115 yards, but it took him 30 carries to get there.
Thank goodness for Shea Patterson. Patterson was 15/24 for 196 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, and he ran 7 times for 31 yards. It wasn’t a stellar afternoon and he didn’t produce any scores, but he kept drives alive and threw some [dangerous] passes with pinpoint accuracy. He had a couple bad throws (a fade route to Grant Perry, a dig route to Collins), but there was also a terrible drop by a wide-open Sean McKeon and a really lazy route by Nick Eubanks that should have been completions. Even though Collins ended up leading the team with 6 catches for 73 yards, the only target that really seemed to help out Patterson was tight end Zach Gentry.
Defensive guys continue to emerge. This game saw a couple young backups show off their pass rushing chops. Sophomore defensive end Kwity Paye has been playing inside at defensive tackle on a lot of pass rushing downs, and he made 2 sacks. Meanwhile, junior linebacker Joshua Uche – who has been deemed by some teammates as the team’s best pass rusher – also made 2 sacks, including the game-sealing takedown on the final play. This is great news for Michigan, who need some backups to let the starters rest, and they need to get ready to start next year when both Winovich and likely Rashan Gary are gone.
The penalties are ridiculous. Michigan deserved all the penalties they got – and maybe more – except for the preposterous holding call on Karan Higdon. Shea Patterson had a 30-yard run called back on a zone read after he faked to Higdon, which sounds absurd. Not absurd enough yet? On the replay, it was clear that Higdon was thrown to the ground by a linebacker after the fake. Regardless, Michigan got called for 10 penalties for 90 yards. It’s not as bad as their previous season-high of 13 for 137, but it’s still too much.
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