The Wolverine

August 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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AUGUST 2019 THE WOLVERINE 81 W ith the hire of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Michigan will shift from its plodding run-oriented offense to an up-tempo passing spread in 2019. Gattis has been implement- ing his schemes this offseason, and U-M fans have been waiting fever- ishly for the debut of the new attack. They want to see senior quarterback Shea Patterson sling darts around the field to junior wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and redshirt sophomore wideout Tarik Black. Michigan, though, should not need to unleash the full force of its offense right out of the gates. Rather, the Wolverines should have several weeks to work out the kinks and break in the new offense. The offense has the benefit of fac- ing only one projected top-20 de- fense in the first half of the season. The four worst defenses that Michi- gan should face this year will be in its first six games as Middle Tennes- see State (86th), Army (94th), Rut- gers (87th) and Illinois (106th) are all projected to be well below average in Defensive S&P+. Wisconsin's defense will be better in week four, but should not be its traditional self (33rd) and U-M will have a bye week to prepare. Of the first six opponents, Iowa is the only one in the projected top 20 of Defensive S&P+ (18th), but Mich- igan won't see the Hawkeyes until its fifth game in week six. Also, un- like in 2016, this matchup will be at The Big House on Homecoming, not during a rowdy night in Iowa City. This top-20 threshold is notewor- thy because, since Jake Rudock left after his one-year stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan's offense has struggled against Defensive S&P+ top-20 de- fenses. From 2016-18, the Wolverines faced 12 schools in the Defensive S&P+ top 20, and in those contests, the offense averaged only 17.6 points per game and 4.29 yards per play. In contrast, in their other 27 games from 2016-18 against teams outside the Defensive S&P+ top 20, the of- fense averaged 36.8 points per game and 6.36 yards per play. Those are significant differences, and ones that have cost Michigan meaningful games the past three seasons. The Wolverines were only 3-9 against the Defensive S&P+ top 20 in that span, and if the criteria is expanded to the top 22, U-M's col- lapse versus South Carolina in 2017 adds a 10th loss. On the other hand, the Wolverines were 25-2 against teams outside the Defensive S&P+ top 20. This implies that Michigan should not need its offense to be humming in the first half of the season. In the last three years, the Wolverines shredded defenses outside the top 20 with offenses that were above average at best. In that span, U-M's best finish in Offensive S&P+ was 25th (2018). Therefore, in the first half of the season, it should be okay if Pat- terson does not read through his progressions as designed on a drop back. It shouldn't be devastating if one of Michigan's receiver triumvi- rate mistimes his route. The unit should be able to perse- vere if an offensive lineman blows a pass protection call at the line and surrenders a sack. Michigan has overcome these mistakes before with lesser offenses and still scored enough points to win comfortably against teams outside the top 20 in Defensive S&P+. That should not change substantially under Gattis' guidance and tutelage. What needs to change for U-M is how it performs against the top 20 in Defensive S&P+. Though the Hawkeyes are projected to slip just inside the top 20, the real tests will come in the second half of the season. After colliding with the Fighting Illini in week seven, three of Michigan's next four games are against projected top-10 defenses: Penn State (fourth), Notre Dame (ninth) and Michigan State (third). Then, in the regular-season finale, the Wolverines will clash with Ohio State, whose defense is projected to be 14th, in their most-anticipated game of the year by far. That is four projected top-20 de- fenses in the final six contests of the season. This is where Gattis will have to prove his value. Jim Harbaugh hired Gattis and is handing him play- calling duties so that U-M can score enough points against elite defenses to relieve its defense of carrying the entire burden. Even in Michigan's three wins against the Defensive S&P+ top 20 from 2016-18, the opponent scored only seven points (2016 Wisconsin, 2018 Michigan State and 2018 Penn State), so the pressure to score in bunches was non-existent. What the last three seasons have shown is that Michigan's defense cannot be asked to do everything. The Wolverines' offense has to per- form at the highest level for U-M to finally win the Big Ten. The good news for Michigan, though, is that it has some time after week one before it needs to hit that level. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Offense Will Face Tough Closing Stretch Josh Gattis and the U-M offense he will lead faces only one projected top-20 defense (per Defensive S&P+) in the first half of the season, but it will square off with four such units over the final six weeks. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

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