The Wolverine

October 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE OCTOBER 2018 J im Harbaugh's team didn't make it out of September unscathed, thanks to an if-only evening in South Bend. But there are no mortal wounds in the season's first month — unless you're Purdue. The Wolverines are a long way from that sort of 0-and-counting, af- ter bowing to Eastern Michigan, the P stands for Pathetic misery. They're also a long, hard road away from In- dianapolis, where they'd love to find themselves come December. The Big Ten story is about to un- fold. Here are five items gleaned from a hard look at Michigan foot- ball before that tale began: 1. Shea Patterson is Harbaugh's best U-M quarterback yet That's a bold statement regarding the junior transfer, considering Jake Rudock's 3,000-yard passing season in 2015 and Wilton Speight leading a 40-point-per-game team to the brink of the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff in 2016. But it's true. Patterson increasingly demonstrates the ability to make all the throws — deep balls, touch passes, sideline throws on the run, the fade, back-shoulder bullets. Har- baugh has been very impressed with his accuracy and where he's putting the football, and the former Michi- gan QB lays down a high standard. "He's got really good vision in the field and that's something I'm asking him all the time," Harbaugh said. "How are you seeing things, what are you seeing? It is really good." Plus, Patterson — the second-most efficient passer in the Big Ten com- ing out of the non-conference, con- necting on 70.8 percent of his throws and posting a passer rating of 171.2 — is as advertised with his feet. He's already bought time and completed passes on plays that might have landed one of U-M's 2017 QBs on a stretcher. "It's a different quarterback than we've had in the past," junior guard Ben Bredeson observed. "He can make plays all over the field … you never know what's happening with him. He's an exciting player." 2. Michigan's defense is strong, but not impenetrable Only Michigan's defenders out- paced Patterson in offseason chatter. With nine starters returning from the No. 3 total defense in the nation a year ago, going hyperbolic became an easy reach for columnists. Through the non-conference slate, it became clear that while the Wol- verines feature a host of strong com- ponents for a potent defense, they've got to come together and get better at crucial moments. The Irish shocked them right out of the gate. Touchdowns the first two times they touched the ball — fol- lowing third-and-long chances for three-and-outs — swung that season- opening showdown. Defensive coordinator Don Brown's crew still holds the key to Michigan's chances in the Big Ten. But how it cleans up its play on third downs, walks a finer line between aggression and flag avoidance, and continues to deliver plays like junior Josh Me- tellus' 73-yard interception return for a touchdown against SMU can trigger the jump from good to great. "We're ready," fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich said of the move to conference play. "Nobody is perfect and every team around the country makes mistakes." 3. U-M receivers are immensely improved That's the natural expectation, from freshmen to sophomores. Still, skep- tics in the offseason demanded to ac- tually witness the advancement. They did, throughout the non-con- ference campaign. Sophomore wide- out Donovan Peoples-Jones' three touchdown catches against SMU de- livered both a cringe-worthy reminder of how ineffective Michigan's passing game was a year ago, and how much it's improved. The trio of TD grabs matched the entire combined 2017 output by U-M wideouts. Patterson plays a role here, but the receivers are simply better. Sopho- more Nico Collins is shaking free for long balls, in the absence of injured classmate Tarik Black. Redshirt fresh- man Oliver Martin has shown nice flashes, and senior Grant Perry is pro- ducing as well. Throw in Michigan's capable tight ends, and the passing game took a major jump. "Donovan has always been kind of an athletic freak, but he's really learned the system, inside and out," redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry said. "When you learn the system to that level, you can just go out and make plays. Credit to him for doing that." 4. Special teams are a huge strength In the non-conference season alone, Michigan blocked a punt, executed a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown against Notre Dame, trotted out a punter averaging 50 yards per kick and continued featuring a placekicker capable of a 60-yard field goal. Not bad, for starters. 5. The Wolverines need to gear up for November Michigan's first two Big Ten oppo- nents stumbled into conference play at 1-4. Michigan doesn't face anyone who emerged from non-conference play undefeated until November. The team that looks the toughest so far comes last. There's ground to make up, and 10 weeks to get there. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Five Football Points We've Discovered If the Wolverines' defense can deliver more plays like junior Josh Metellus' 73-yard inter- ception return for a touchdown against SMU, that unit could go from good to great. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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