For yet another season, Michigan is one of the country’s most penalized teams in 2018. Teams have accepted an average of 9.2 infractions for 84.2 yards per game against the Wolverines — 13th and 15th worst nationally, respectively.

That’s up nearly three penalties a contest from 2017, marking the third season Michigan ranks below average in the category under coach Jim Harbaugh.

Yellow flags were again plentiful for the Wolverines in their come-from-behind victory at Northwestern on Saturday. Michigan was called for six penalties in the first half, their effects compounded by the costly moments in which they came.

Facing third-and-long early in the second quarter, Northwestern threw a fade to the endzone, looking to capitalize on a man-to-man matchup between David Long and receiver Bennett Skowronek. The junior corner fell behind the route, however, and was forced to grab Skowronek to prevent an easy touchdown. Long was called for pass interference, setting up a punch-in score for the Wildcats two snaps later.

Junior corner Lavert Hill was flagged for a hold later in the second quarter, as he and Long struggled against Northwestern’s quick passing plays and slants early. Thorson completed nine of his first 11 passes.

But perhaps the most momentum-thwarting penalty was a false start by redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry late in the second quarter. Looking for points before heading to the locker room, Gentry jumped on fourth-and-three, forcing the Wolverines to bring on their punting unit in Wildcat territory.

While Michigan adjusted both its discipline and play in the second half, those errors were far from confidence-inspiring. As nearly 16-point favorites in front of a split crowd, the Wolverines were expected to cruise through Saturday.

They showed they could have with 20 unanswered points to finish the game. But those penalties and self-inflicted errors created Michigan’s razor-thin margin for error.

It was also the second horrid defensive start on the road for the Wolverines in as many tries. A month ago, Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-3 lead after now-backup Brandon Wimbush torched the Wolverines secondary. Penalties had their roll then, too. Junior safety Josh Metellus was ejected after a targeting call on the game’s second drive.

Khaleke Hudson has become all too familiar with that controversial player-safety rule. For the second consecutive week, the junior VIPER sat out the first half after targeting penalties the week prior.

Fans, meanwhile, will point to a questionable penalty that didn’t go the Wolverines’ way. On a zone-read in the fourth quarter, senior running back Karan Higdon was penalized for a hold Harbaugh said was a “phantom call.”

“I asked for it specifically just to make sure they didn’t come back later and say it was some other player,” Harbaugh said. “They called it on 22, they called it on Karan, so I asked the referee, ‘Go ask the side judge who he called it on.’ So there wasn’t some different explanation days from now.”

Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich also said he was “baffled” by what he thought were a litany of missed holding penalities against Northwestern’s offensive line. 

Officials make mistakes. It’s part of college football. Many of those mistakes happened to not benefit Michigan on Saturday.

But it doesn’t discount a worrying trend. Penalties, for yet another week, proved numerous and detrimental. And as the Big Ten slate heats up, it could be only a matter of time before they culminate in another loss for the Wolverines.

“We’ve got to make it clear that there were no penalties, so there’s no grey in-between for the refs to throw that flag,” said junior linebacker Josh Uche. “Like I said, it was self-inflicted stuff, but we adjusted.”

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