There are many takeaways from Michigan’s 21-7 win over Michigan State, even some not concerning the pre-game antics. The Wolverines’ defense suffocated the Spartans, limiting their offense to just 94 total yards. The offense continued to show new layers, and an ability to do what it takes. The result is a top-5 team with real Big Ten Title and College Football Playoff hopes.
The Daily broke down the film from Saturday’s game, with an emphasis on those broader trends lifting the ascendant Wolverines. Here are four thoughts:
1. The offensive line is moving people
After Notre Dame, I wrote the following about this offensive line: “The Wolverines’ offensive line is a problem that has no answer. It will hold back an offense that is otherwise filled with playmakers. It will force schematic changes that mask its weakness. It could get its quarterback — who showed flashes of brilliance — injured.”
Perhaps (no, certainly) I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe this offensive line has taken strides nobody could have foreseen under coach Ed Warriner. In reality, it’s almost definitely some indefinite combination of the two (don’t answer that).
The bottom line: I was wrong. Most people were.
Before the season, most fans would have happily taken an average offensive line. This group is playing far above average, and it might be the single biggest reason for the Wolverines’ 7-1 record and No. 5 ranking.
The performance against Michigan State — in which Michigan ran for 183 yards on the previously top-ranked run defense in the country — was just another in a string of physical dominance.
Just watch them move people here:
Then again here:
You get it.
There will be more tests to come. But Michigan’s offensive line is the most surprising team strength. Praise Warriner. Praise the players. Praise everyone.
2. Josh Uche is becoming, or might already be, a pass-rushing star
You may not have noticed, but Rashan Gary didn’t play for the third consecutive game. Josh Uche rendered his presence moot once again Saturday, adding two more sacks to his team-high five on the year.
Watch his first sack. Play close attention to his hand-usage and his dip at the end. He doesn’t let the offensive lineman get ahold of him, then uses his speed to dart toward the quarterback.
Watch his second sack, this one coming from the interior. He uses power to make his way into the backfield.
Even with a completely healthy defensive line, Uche has developed into a player Michigan won’t be able to take off the field. His emergence adds just another layer to a group with some of the best depth in the country.
3. A season-defining play
You probably don’t need the film to break down the importance of this one, but it can’t be stressed enough.
In the rain, with offenses at a standstill in the unfriendly confines of East Lansing, all the adversity that could’ve been heaped on Michigan’s back was. Then the five-star quarterback made the throw to the five-star receiver to change the Wolverines’ season and the trajectory of the program.
Hyperbole be damned.
Watch the play three times. First, watch Patterson throw the ball to a window, just over the top of the corner. Peoples-Jones called it “the perfect throw” after the game. It’s hard to argue that.
Then watch again for the separation Peoples-Jones gets at the line, to get the outside and gain a hint of separation. That’s real growth from the sophomore, who just keeps showing more signs as the season progresses.
Then watch for a third time, this time just for Gus Johnson’s commentary. Because that’s always a necessity.
Imagine an alternate universe where Peoples-Jones and Patterson don’t combine for this touchdown, Michigan succombs to the heaps of pressure and the Wolverines somehow lose a game they dominated. What’s the narrative then?
I can assure you it isn’t about the return of prime, guns-blazing Harbaugh.
4. Read option is here. And it’s here to stay.
Fans clamoring for Harbaugh to merge his offense with Patterson’s strengths are starting to see their dreams come true.
The read option has become a weapon anchoring Michigan’s offense, and a tell-tale sign of that came on 4th-and-2 in the third quarter.
To be clear, the Wolverines didn’t have to go for this in the first place. Their defense was controlling the game and had controlled the game all day. The likelihood Michigan State’s offense would drive down the full length of the field to tie the game was slim and none. Maybe a Michigan of a few weeks ago punts the ball here.
But Harbaugh wanted the knockout punch, the touchdown that would eventually come on this drive. He smelled blood.
And when you have this level of trust in your quarterback and offensive line, you can afford that risk.
Patterson clearly has the innate skill of handling the ball properly, enough to deceive defenders and viewers alike. He even slips after keeping the ball but still manages to comfortably get the first down.
And the decision to run read option on one of the biggest plays of the game makes it crystal clear how much trust they have all around.
There are hiccups, like the mistake to not keep the ball on this play — one that probably would’ve gone for a touchdown. Those will get hammered out.
This is a real weapon, though. And it’s a weapon that will only grow as the season heads toward its climax.