The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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6 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 Are they close? Yeah. Is it frus- trating? Obviously. Do they want to beat Ohio State? Yes. Do they want to get to the playoff? Abso- lutely. I still think he's building a program and has to get the quar- terback play up to par to really go to that next level. — ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, on Michigan under Jim Harbaugh J im Harbaugh needs more than a top-notch quarter- back to beat Ohio State and make the College Football Play- off. The fact that the Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines by an average score of 44.2-25.2 over the past five seasons un- derscores that fact. But point taken, Herbie. In Michigan's closest call to date re- garding Harbaugh versus Mt. Doom — the 30-27 double-overtime heart- breaker in 2016 — U-M handed OSU two touchdowns via interceptions. The closer-than-expected home game the following season ended on a Michigan downfield throw that looked more like a punt. OSU grate- fully gathered it in. The past two seasons, Shea Pat- terson tried to keep up, while OSU short-circuited its side of the score- board with a combined 118 points. In five years, Michigan quarter- backs have completed 53.9 percent of their throws against the Buckeyes. They've made eight TD tosses, suf- fered six interceptions and been sacked 14 times. Enter Joe Milton, auditioning next for the role of Buckeye slayer. Of course, the massive (6-5, 243 pounds) redshirt sophomore quarterback has plenty to worry about in this COVID-cratered season before the Buckeyes come slinking around. But Milton knows all about con- quering one mountain at a time. Just ask Donovan Dooley, QB guru who created "Quarterback University," training signal-callers from opera- tions centers in Walled Lake, Mich., and Wixom, Mich. Milton impressed Dooley im- mensely in pre-COVID training sessions. The young Michigan quar- terback didn't go on about where he might stand in the Wolverines' quarterback battle. He didn't take the field acting like he knew it all. He showed up to work and to learn — with Dooley, at other times with former U-M quarterback Devin Gardner, and now with Michigan's multiple quarterback shapers. "Actually, he kept a poker face," Dooley said. "He never even men- tioned it. He kept on, kept grinding and said, 'Hey, Coach, I'm just com- peting, day by day.' He controlled the controllables. Honestly, Joe never even mentioned him being No. 1 or 2. "He said, 'Coach, I've just got to keep grinding. At the end of the day, when my opportunity comes, I'm going to take it.'" It appears he's taken it. Of course, winning the job represents only step one. Doing the job — against Minne- sota in the opener, versus Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and ulti- mately you know who — is another matter altogether. "There are plenty of examples in Michigan history of State Street All- Americans that couldn't do it when the lights went on," Michigan side- line reporter Doug Karsch observed. "There is a lot to be told yet." That said, a very plugged-in source has changed his tune on Milton. "One person that was skeptical that he'd ever get it done is now a believer," Karsch offered. Dooley is another. He insists Milton is vastly improved on "deep eights, big posts, over routes, comebacks — from any landmark, now. Joe can throw from either hash or boundary. He's shown the arm talent. "More than anything, it's throwing the football on time. It's being with his guys, know- ing your personnel, working on timing." It's also confidence, not press- ing and learning to put touch on passes. Milton now checks all of those boxes for Dooley. "Before, he would let every play bother him, just trying to be a perfectionist," Dooley said. "When you're No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart, every play is scruti- nized, right? Even a starter is scruti- nized, but it's even more scrutinized when you're not the guy. "He used to press and try to be per- fect. I said, 'When you're prepared, your preparation has been the stan- dard throughout the week, you're go- ing to be productive and effective on game days. Just take that stance and everything will pan out." Karsch insists Michigan needs "an alpha dog" to make the game-chang- ing play in the biggest of contests. Charles Woodson comes to mind. But he's been gone 23 years. Who lately made their best plays in the biggest game? "I can't think of too many," Karsch said. "It has something to do with, hey, that team's really good. But they need one of these guys that makes the best play in the last game of the year. "They've had guys go high in the draft and some really talented play- ers. Did they make a difference in that game? That's what they need." Candidates abound. But if Herbst- reit's right, none are more important than a third-year Wolverine with a big arm and massive dreams. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Can A New QB Change The Game? Redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Milton (left, with for- mer U-M signal-caller Shea Patterson) checks all the boxes for what Michigan needs under center, but will it be enough to lift the Wolverines past the Buckeyes? PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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