Football players and coaches love to remind people that there’s always room for improvement. The Michigan football team is no different, and Saturday’s game was not an exception.
“Really look forward to a great week of practice for the football team,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Wolverines beat SMU, 45-20, on Saturday. “We’re getting closer to being good, really good, but we’re still not quite there yet. See improvements can be made. And really looking forward to a great week this week in preparation.”
In most cases, the sentiment of Harbaugh’s quote is simply coach speak, because of course every team can always improve. It still probably qualifies as coach speak here, given that the question Harbaugh was asked was whether or not he expects running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans to play next week against Nebraska.
But even despite that, and despite the Wolverines’ lopsided victory, there were mistakes, sometimes glaring ones, on which Michigan will have to improve.
Take, for example, the Mustangs’ first touchdown of the game. Wolverines safety Brad Hawkins and cornerback David Long had some kind of miscommunication, and, whatever it was, it left SMU receiver James Proche running wide open up the sideline. Proche caught the pass from quarterback Ben Hicks and scampered 50 yards to the house. Just like that, a game Michigan should have run away with was tied, 7-7.
And based on the final score, you could argue Michigan did run away with it. But it was still a game that saw the Wolverines commit 13 penalties for 137 yards, including a targeting call on junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson which will hold him out of the first half of next week’s game against Nebraska.
“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. Don’t think anybody does.”
And of course, there were some mistakes along the offensive line throughout the night, but hashing through those feels like overkill at this point.
The thing about all of this is that the mistakes, this time, didn’t matter, because the Wolverines ultimately played well enough to win comfortably.
Junior safety Josh Metellus prevented the Mustangs from scoring before half and flipped the whole feel of the game on its head with his 73-yard interception return for a touchdown. Junior quarterback Shea Patterson continued to show exactly why his arrival was so coveted this offseason, and sophomore wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones proved he belongs on this stage with his three touchdowns.
The talent on Michigan’s roster is eye-popping, especially against the SMUs of the world. Perhaps that’s what makes the Wolverines’ mental mistakes so mind-boggling.
Michigan has time to fix many of these errors before it gets to the meaty part of its schedule, and if it wants to reach its preseason goals, it needs to. Wisconsin, even with its loss to BYU is still a team that will gladly make them pay for 137 penalty yards and blown assignments. Michigan State and Penn State will too.
Heck, if Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez returns next week, the Cornhuskers aren’t a team to play around with.
The point is this: the Wolverines got by on Saturday with some mistakes because they were always going to beat the Mustangs. The talent gap was far too wide.
But there are teams coming soon against whom that kind of thing won’t fly, and, since those games are the ones that will define the Wolverines' season, ignoring the gaffes would be disingenuous.
Maybe it feels like nitpicking, but in this case, it’s about more than just room to improve.