Michigan is lucky to have Jake Moody.
Through nine games, the senior kicker has split the uprights on 21 of 23 field goal attempts, already giving him the second-most makes over a season in Wolverines history. Three points are virtually a foregone conclusion every time Moody steps onto the field.
Michigan’s loss to Michigan State last week — in which Moody made all four of his field goal attempts, none of which were for greater than 40 yards — showed that the Wolverines cannot win on field goals alone. It exposed the fact that, even with a kicker as consistent as Moody, Michigan has to score touchdowns on red-zone drives to compete with the Big Ten’s best.
In Saturday’s 29-7 victory over Indiana, the seventh-ranked Wolverines once again struggled to convert many of their best opportunities into touchdowns, settling for field goals on three of six red-zone attempts. At the same time, they showed progress and laid the groundwork for finding more success with a short field moving forward.
“We were attacking (the red zone) tonight,” senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker said. “And I think that’ll be something that we focus on with the weeks coming.”
Where there was progress, Schoonmaker played a major role. In the absence of junior tight end Erick All, who dressed for Saturday’s game but didn’t participate due to an injury, Schoonmaker took on a greater role in the offense, reeling in three catches for 21 yards and two touchdowns.
That impact was felt most in the red zone. Midway through the second quarter, with Michigan nursing a three-point lead at the Hoosiers’ 12-yard line, junior quarterback Cade McNamara faked the handoff, rolled to his right and hit Schoonmaker open at the goal line on a waggle concept.
Though not particularly highlight-reel worthy, the throw was indicative of how the Wolverines can find success near the endzone moving forward. A drive earlier, the offense had already established senior running back Hassan Haskins as a red-zone weapon, as he tallied both a reception (with a hurdle) that put Michigan inside Indiana’s five-yard line and a touchdown run two plays later.
On the touchdown pass, both the safety and the linebacker on the right side bit on the fake to Haskins, leaving Schoonmaker plenty of space to run his route. Even rolling to his right, McNamara couldn’t have asked for an easier touchdown pass.
“Schoonie was a big factor in converting in the red zone tonight,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That’s a plus. … A big tight end like that, like you saw Erick All last week — I think Erick will be back this week — that’s gonna be a big factor in the red zone.”
Still, the offense continued to leave points on the board at times. Near the end of the game, that was at least partially due to compounding injuries — in one instance, freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy floated a pass facing pressure while filling in for a shaken-up McNamara — but it more broadly reflected the Wolverines’ play-callers getting away from what works and their players playinly missing assignments.
“It’s just everybody doing their job,” Schoonmaker said. “Not freaking out, not overthinking and executing. That’ll be something we continue to work on.”
In terms of progress, Saturday’s outing showed that Michigan recognizes the issues in the red zone and is working to correct them. Schoonmaker’s involvement in that progress shows how the Wolverines are both sticking with what’s worked in the past — namely, tight ends on short routes — and integrating new faces into that mix.
At the same time, that 3-of-6 success rate shows that there’s still plenty of progress to be made. Against Michigan State, Michigan found out that relying on Moody too much doesn’t work against top opponents.
Put simply, it almost certainly needs to be better against Penn State next week. It absolutely does against Ohio State in three weeks.