Red zone woes. Michigan has scored touchdowns on just 1 of 10 opportunities inside the 20-yard line. They don’t have difference-makers on offense at quarterback or wide receiver, and running back Ty Isaac needs a crease to be at his best. For the past couple years, Michigan could bring in Jabrill Peppers as a Wildcat quarterback, running back, or slot guy, but they don’t have that guy right now. The offensive line needs to improve to help make that difference, and Wilton Speight needs to be better, too. Luckily, kicker Quinn Nordin has been pretty darn good in his first three games, and he’s actually tied for #1 nationally with 11 made field goals (on 13 attempts). That is good for Nordin, but it’s disappointing that Michigan has attempted 13 field goals, which is the most in the country.
Hit the jump for more on Saturday’s win.
A star emerging? Much of the tight end talk has been about Sean McKeon, who leads the tight ends with 5 receptions. However, I mentioned above that Michigan doesn’t have difference-makers at QB or WR, but note that I didn’t say that about tight end. The guy who has been catching my eye is Zach Gentry, who has 3 catches for 71 yards in the last two games. He’s the tight end who can get separation and run away from some people. McKeon has been getting a lot of snaps and is a superior blocker, but Gentry is the one who can make big plays.
Injury concerns. Freshman Tarik Black has looked like the best bet to have a traditional #1 receiver at Michigan, and he leads the team with 11 receptions and 149 yards. Unfortunately, he left the game late, and rumors popped up that he might have a broken bone in his foot. Hopefully he is healthy, because he seems like a favorite target of Wilton Speight’s. Perhaps more concerning was the injury to starting running back Ty Isaac, who left the game late after the training staff was looking at his rib/abdominal area. Isaac is averaging 7.1 yards/carry and 112 yards/game, while Chris Evans (3.7) and Karan Higdon (4.6) have dropped off since last season. Isaac also had a long touchdown run called back because of a Kekoa Crawford holding penalty, and he just barely stepped out of bounds on another big run. Out of the running backs, Isaac is the one guy who’s consistently making things happen.
The offensive line needs to get better. It’s too early for Nolan Ulizio to have earned a starting job at Michigan, and right guard Michael Onwenu isn’t getting the job done, either. I was happy when Michigan yanked Onwenu late to insert Jon Runyan, Jr. I said last week that the coaching staff should take a look at Runyan, and he finally got an opportunity. I think that should be the next step, but there needs to be a shakeup. Michigan isn’t getting a push up front and they’re whiffing on blocks. Once you’re three games into the season, if somebody isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do, it’s time to at least look at a change.
Donovan Peoples-Jones sighting. Peoples-Jones had the best game of his young career with 2 punt returns for 104 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown return. He also caught 2 passes for 52 yards. I could go for some more of a guy who averages 52 yards/punt return and 26 yards/catch. I know that’s not sustainable, but it’s nice to see a guy who can make big plays. He hasn’t been a big factor on offense so far, but maybe some of that talent can get harnessed more and more.
I’ve had about enough of Kekoa Crawford, too. Crawford has been underwhelming this season and dropped a key pass in this one that would have converted a long third down. He’s supposedly the #1 guy, but he has just 5 receptions for 86 yards and 1 touchdown through three games. Projected over a full season, that’s 20 catches for 344 yards. Crawford is a good blocker, so he shouldn’t be removed from the field altogether, but Michigan needs to look elsewhere for playmaking ability.
The defense was outstanding. I haven’t said much about the defense yet, maybe because it’s set the standard so high. We knew going in that Air Force’s offensive line wouldn’t be able to blocker Michigan’s front seven, and that was true except for a few times when the Falcons ran option outside to try to get to the young guys at corner and safety. Air Force completed just 1/7 passes (albeit for a 64-yard TD), and they averaged just 3.4 yards/carry.
Devin Bush, Jr. might be All-Big Ten. He won’t continue on this pace, but Bush is headed for a 100-tackle, 18-TFL, 14-sack season if he continues at this rate. The guy has been outstanding so far, and he’s just a true sophomore.
This is going to be a rough season. Michigan is 3-0 so far, and these young guys will get better. But Speight can’t create things for himself, and there aren’t enough playmakers on offense. Michigan might pull off an upset or two, but they’re going to have a very rough time against good defenses.
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