The good: Patterson/Peoples-Jones connection
In Saturday’s postgame press conference, a reporter asked junior quarterback Shea Patterson and sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones about one of the duo’s three touchdown connections on the day — a back-shoulder fade to move the score to 28-7.
Is that something you regularly practice?
Both paused. Patterson glanced at Peoples-Jones and smiled.
It took everyone in the receiving corps some time to feel comfortable with the new signal-caller.
But after some time, it seems Peoples-Jones and Patterson — each former glistening five-star talents — have found that comfortability, and the offense, is being rewarded in droves.
Saturday, Peoples-Jones notched the first three-touchdown game from a Michigan wide receiver since Jehu Chesson scored four touchdowns against Indiana in 2015. It is also Peoples-Jones’ first multi-touchdown game, as the former top wide receiver commit in the country continues to show an ever-expanding toolset.
The first touchdown came on a crossing route late in the first half. He glided across the field, caught a dart from Patterson and turned up field for a 35-yard score. Then came the back-shoulder fade — the first such score in recent Michigan history (with only exaggeration). The ability to adjust his body, find the ball and get his feet down offered the clearest sign of a wide receiver with a world of potential starting to put it together.
The throw — from the quarterback completing nearly 80 percent of his passes — was on the money.
Then, to cap it off, Patterson found Peoples-Jones in stride on a 41-yard deep post for a score, a route Harbaugh called “terrific” and a throw he deemed “right on the money.”
Peoples-Jones finished the day with four catches for 90 yards and three touchdowns, a banner day for a receiver and a quarterback who seem to just be getting started.
The bad: the secondary
If you’d never heard of James Proche before Saturday, the SMU receiver offered a memorable introduction. Proche pranced around the Michigan secondary all day, catching everything in sight and drawing pass intereference calls on the off chance he didn’t.
In the end, Proche tallied 11 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns. That seems low.
While Proche, who has over 100 career catches and nearly 2000 yards, has clear talent, it’s a foreboding sign that an American Athletic Conference receiver had his way with a secondary that is supposed to be one of the nation’s best.
Juniors Lavert Hill, David Long and Josh Metellus, along with several others, took their shot at the Mustangs’ top receiver. Time and time again, Proche had his way.
One such error included a simple wheel route from the slot, crossing with a receiver running to the middle of the field. Metellus and sophomore safety Brad Hawkins had a miscommunication on the coverage, leading to a walk-in 50-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven.
All this complementing the seven penalties that plagued the defense — many of which came on pass interference calls.
With Big Ten play set to begin, Michigan’s secondary simply has to be better. The margin for error is going to get much slimmer in the coming weeks.
The ugly: penalties*
You won’t win many games with 13 penalties for 137 yards. Against SMU, it can be used as a harmless teaching point. Against a formidable opponent, it could be a back-breaker.
On the verge of Big Ten play, Harbaugh will be sure to emphasize the former.
“My point is, you address each of them,” Harbaugh said. “And penalties are hurting us. That’s something we have to clean up and get better at. We address each one — technique, what we’re using, the discipline that we have. Get them corrected, get them coached, get improved. Don’t want 13 penalties in a game.”
Some of them, Harbaugh disagreed with. Some even emphatically so.
In the third quarter, junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson was ejected for targeting. Harbaugh — and anyone who was asked about it after the game — took objection to that call in particular.
The point remains, though, that it’s among the flaws the Wolverines will seek to correct going forward. Perhaps based on the sheer randomness of penalties, it’s less dire than other flaws (say, pass protection or safety play), but penalties reared their ugly head on Saturday.
*This section noticeably leaves out SMU coach Sonny Dykes kicking an onside kick with a player who wasn’t a kicker, then promptly getting penalized for it. This is a Michigan publication. Unfortunately, this play did not qualify for publication. It was, however, quite ugly.