The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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22 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan stood 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten just beyond the halfway point of the season, and most believed that was right where they'd be after seven games. The Wolverines lost to Notre Dame in the opener in a sloppy game, but they'd steadily improved since (mi- nus a bad first quarter against North- western, after which they rebounded for a 20-17 win). Here's what we saw from each phase of the 2018 Michigan team through seven games: OFFENSE What a difference good quarter- back play makes. Junior Shea Pat- terson had been a leader in the first seven games, and though he didn't put up gaudy numbers (1,311 yards and 10 TDs passing), he was ex- tremely efficient in completing 109 of his 159 passes (68.6 percent). Patterson had started to show his versatility halfway through Big Ten play. He'd gained 208 gross rush- ing yards, and more of them were coming on designed runs, including a key 81-yarder in the second quar- ter against Wisconsin to set up the first touchdown. That one came on a read-option keeper, which was be- coming a bigger part of the playbook. "He's been better each week," head coach Jim Harbaugh said of Patter- son. "He finds another thing to be good at every single week. This past week was his running ability, and his ball handling was superb. With the fakes, carrying out the fakes, the decision making, ball security. He does a great job of taking care of the football. "He had one he forced [against Wisconsin], but it was the first one I can remember in a while … several games, anyway. He does a great job making decisions." Several playmakers had emerged in the passing game, and the big play has returned to the offense. Six different receivers or tight ends had notched a reception of 21 yards or more, and Patterson had spread the wealth. Only three of them — red- shirt junior tight end Zach Gentry (311 yards) and sophomore wide receivers Nico Collins (296) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (247) — had eclipsed 100 yards for the season. The group was expected to get a boost with redshirt freshman Tarik Black's return from a broken foot, possibly in late October. Senior running back Karan Higdon had been everything expected and more with 687 rushing yards, and though junior Chris Evans had been slowed by injury and limited to 190 rushing yards in five games played, junior Tru Wilson emerged in his ab- sence. Wilson's pass blocking was the best among a much-improved group. Sophomore fullback Ben Mason, meanwhile, had added a physical presence that made the entire offense tougher. But the most noticeable difference came up front, where the offensive line — redshirt junior left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., junior left guard Ben Bredeson, sophomore center Cesar Ruiz, junior right guard Mike On- wenu and fifth-year senior right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty — had become the solid group new line coach Ed Warinner had predicted they could become. "They're more confident," Warin- ner said in early October. "They be- lieve in what's going on. It's about RIGHT ON SCHEDULE Michigan Was Exactly Where Many Expected At The Season's Midway Point Behind the play of junior quarterback Shea Patterson (68.6-percent completion rate for 1,311 yards with 10 touchdowns), the Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Penn State in scor- ing offense (38.1 points per game) through seven contests. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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