The elephant in the room. Joe Milton looked good. He completed 15/22 passes for 225 yards and 1 touchdown, while running 8 times for 52 yards and 1 touchdown. I thought he would look shaky, and he didn’t. Yes, there were some mistakes, but he also made some very nice plays. Obviously, the arm strength is impressive, but he didn’t really complete any deep shots. The throws he hit were in the short and intermediate areas. It was a good debut for a starting QB.
Hit the jump for more.
What were the mistakes? There weren’t many, but I thought the sack Milton took from Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe was unnecessary. Mafe bull rushed Ryan Hayes backward, but Milton tried to reverse escape too soon and kind of ran himself into a sack. He also tried to throw over defenders a couple times, which I’m generally not a fan of doing. He needs to do a better job of finding throwing windows, or those throws start turning into batted balls and interceptions. Milton also wasn’t complete in sync with his receivers. A lot of the intermediate throws were behind the receivers, and the one true deep shot he threw was significantly overthrown (which was probably a good thing considering the receiver was covered).
How did it compare to other first-time starters in the Jim Harbaugh era?
- Jake Rudock vs. Utah in 2015: 27/43 (62.8%) for 279 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
- Wilton Speight vs. Hawaii in 2016: 10/13 (76.9%) for 145 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
- John O’Korn vs. Indiana in 2016: 7/16 (43.8%) for 59 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
- Brandon Peters vs. Minnesota in 2017: 8/13 (61.5%) for 56 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
- Shea Patterson vs. Notre Dame in 2018: 20/30 (66.7%) for 227 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
- Joe Milton vs. Minnesota in 2020: 15/22 (68.1%) for 225 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Out of those six debuts, Milton is #2 in completions, #3 in attempts, #3 in completion percentage, #3 in yards, #2 (tie) in touchdowns, and #1 (tie) in interceptions. He was also #2 in passer efficiency rating, behind Speight’s game against Hawaii.
What’s the pecking order at receiver? I felt like the play calling and/or Joe Milton’s tendency was to get the ball to Giles Jackson, but they couldn’t quite connect. Jackson caught just 2 passes for 17 yards, but Milton missed him a couple other times. The leading receiver ended up being Ronnie Bell (4 catches for 74 yards), who made hay on bubble routes and an RPO catch-and-run on which he broke free . . . before he pulled a Daniel Jones and fell flat on his face. Speaking of embarrassing plays, Erick All had an easy touchdown on a beautifully designed play by Josh Gattis . . . and let it slip through his fingers.
Michigan’s pass rush is back. I know it was Minnesota. And Minnesota was playing from behind for most of the game. And Minnesota had to reshuffle its offensive line due to injuries. But the quickness and speed and variety of Michigan’s pass rush is back to when Chase Winovich was in Ann Arbor back in 2018. Kwity Paye had 2 sacks, Aidan Hutchinson was getting pressure almost every time, Michael Barrett’s early sack and forced fumble messed with Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan’s head, and even nose tackle Julius Welschof was quick enough to be used on a stunt, putting him in the C-gap and landing him a sack. Overall, the Wolverines had 5 sacks – according to ESPN – and I think they actually had 6, because I could have sworn Paye made sacks on 3 consecutive plays but was only credited with 2.
These freshmen “burned their redshirt.” The NCAA says it doesn’t count, anyway, but just to give you an idea of which true freshmen are in the mix for playing time:
- RB Blake Corum
- WR A.J. Henning
- LB William Mohan
- LB Kalel Mullings
- S Makari Paige
- WR Roman Wilson
- OG Zak Zinter
What about the run defense? I’m not too worried about the run defense, and here’s why. Michigan was very afraid of Rashod Bateman taking over the game and he didn’t (more on that later). With the Wolverines paying extra attention to Bateman, there were some structural things the defense was doing that kept some guys from being in position to make plays. Now they also took some bad angles and did not wrap up. Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim ran 26 times for 140 yards (5.4 yards/carry) and 2 touchdowns, and most of those yards came from bending it back outside on inside zone runs. Safeties and outside linebackers were flying in to cut him off rather than working from outside-in to keep contain.
Michael Barrett is another jack-of-all-trades. I love former quarterbacks, and Barrett is another one. There aren’t many guys who are more well-rounded than him. He completed a 25-yard pass to Daxton Hill last year. He returned a kickoff 66 yards against the Gophers on Saturday night. He also made 7 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble, which was returned by Donovan Jeter for a touchdown. Oh, and he was Johnny On the Spot when Blake Corum fumbled a short kickoff, recovering the ball when that could have been a big momentum swing in favor of the bad guys.
So what did they do to Bateman? Bateman is Minnesota’s best player, and they bottled him up pretty well. If you tell me that the Big Ten’s best receiver is going to make 9 catches for 101 yards (11.2 yards/catch) and 0 touchdowns against Michigan, I’ll take that every time. He had 6 catches for 26 yards in the first half. Of course, that means he had 3 catches for 75 yards in the second half, but most of that came on one big play, a 38-yard catch-and-run against true freshman Makari Paige. Michigan showed a bunch of different looks, including bracket coverage, single coverage, and walking out an extra linebacker or safety to shade him, discouraging a throw. Minnesota is smart to play him in the slot, because it’s tougher to double a guy in the slot if you want to stop the run. I would rather have a running back average 5.4 yards per carry than have Bateman averaging 20 yards/catch, which he did last year for the whole season.
A few random notes:
- Michigan threw the #85 jersey on offensive tackle Joel Honigford and played him at tight end. Whether this is a short-term thing because of Nick Eubanks’s absence or a long-term thing because Honigford is just that valuable of a blocker, I don’t know.
- Michigan’s offensive line looked pretty dang good for it being game #1 with four new starters. Andrew Stueber and Chuck Filiaga are two giant human beings at offensive guard, and good luck trying to defeat a double team when Stueber and Jalen Mayfield combo. Yikes.
- Daxton Hill left the game due to injury, and things got really iffy after that. Makari Paige is the third safety, and Paige shouldn’t be playing in game one of his true freshman year. This is no offense to Paige. True freshman safeties are just not good. Let’s hope Hill’s injury is not a long-term one.
- Zach Charbonnet broke off a 70-yard touchdown run and only touched the ball four times. Maybe the coaches are trying to keep guys fresh by rotating backs.?
What does this game mean? I don’t know. I said before the game that I could see this game swing wildly, from a three-touchdown win for Michigan to a close game to a three-touchdown loss. It ended up being a 25-point victory, a little more than three touchdowns. It’s probably a little different game if right guard Curtis Dunlap and right tackle Daniel Fa’alele played for the Gophers, but Michigan was missing starting tight end Nick Eubanks, too, on a night when tight ends Erick All and Ben Mason factored in heavily.
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