All season long, the No. 5 Michigan football team has had no trouble moving the ball.
If you want proof, look no further than graduate punter Brad Robbins’ lack of work. In the last two games, he has punted the ball just once.
Certainly, the Wolverines are putting up an obscene number of points in those games, right? Well, not quite, and there is one thing at the crux of that problem:
Their red zone offense.
In its five red zone trips against Michigan State, Michigan came away with two touchdowns and three field goals. Adding to their woes, the Wolverines had another drive stall out at the Spartans’ 21-yard line. The problem isn’t scoring when Michigan’s offense reaches the red zone, it actually has one of the most efficient red zone offenses in the country — 44 trips, 41 scores.
Cashing it in for a touchdown, though, is the problem.
“We just got to finish,” sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy said after the win over Michigan State. “It’s back-to-back weeks where we can’t put the ball in the endzone so that’s gonna be a huge improvement for us. That’s gonna be a huge focus going forward, and we just got to get it done.”
Junior running back Blake Corum chimed in as well:
“We got to score,” Corum said, sounding a bit exasperated. “You know I want to blow (Michigan State) out, and it should’ve been a blowout. … We got to get better at the red zone.”
In Michigan’s games against Penn State and the Spartans, it controlled the game throughout, never really in any real danger of losing even though its offense failed to finish drives. But against superior competition, namely Ohio State on Nov. 26, settling for field goals will only go so far.
That’s where the sense of urgency comes from.
It isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight or even by next week — it’s one where a solution needs to come over time. The problem can’t be boiled down to just one ingredient, either. There are a myriad of contributors.
A commonality for the Wolverines on Saturday was their inability to gain positive yardage on first down and goal-to-go situations. On numerous drives that landed inside its opponents’ ten-yard line, Michigan went backward on first down — setting itself up for failure.
One of the pillars of the Wolverines’ offensive philosophy is staying ahead of the chains. That means gaining positive yardage on first and second downs resulting in either third and short or an entirely new set of downs where they can do it all again. That all goes out the window when Michigan is pushed back on first down, especially when the field shrinks inside of the red zone.
Graduate center Olusegun Oluwatimi thinks the responsibility of fixing the issue falls onto the shoulder of both the players and the coaching staff.
“Coaches got to game plan and put us in a good position and also we have to execute the game plan. I don’t think we executed the game plan that well against Michigan State,” Oluwatimi said Tuesday. “(The coaches) want to see us be perfect and execute so they’re going to be in there until midnight scheming up, and we’re going to be watching film and trying to get better as well.”
Oluwatimi’s attitude is mirrored by his teammates. The Wolverines know that in order to accomplish everything that they set out to do, they need to score touchdowns. Because if Michigan doesn’t fix this problem come a late November showdown with the Buckeyes, the scoreboard may not look as favorable for it as it has in recent weeks.