Joel Klatt: Two Reasons Michigan Underperformed in 2017

Joel Klatt: Two Reasons Michigan Underperformed in 2017

Football

Joel Klatt: Two Reasons Michigan Underperformed in 2017

CHICAGO — Former Colorado quarterback-turned-FOX Sports color analyst Joel Klatt isn’t shy about his admiration for Michigan football under Jim Harbaugh.

We spoke to him last year, and he said that if things went to plan in Ann Arbor, given the personnel, Michigan could just pick right up where it left off in 2016.

However, after injuries decimated the offense — Michigan lost starting quarterback Wilton Speight in Week Four and starting wide receiver Tarik Black in Week Three — that side of the ball underperformed greatly — especially compared to the defensive side of the ball. Thus, the Wolverines did not live up to what Klatt envisioned.

Looking back, he explains why Michigan ended up going 8-5, and why he expects the Wolverines to have a big season in 2018 — again — if everything goes to plan.

“They didn’t get very consistent quarterback play,” Klatt said. “If they would have gotten it, they would have had a great season. And the margin – unfortunately for them, the margin in this conference, and more specifically in their division, is razor thin. So, if your quarterback doesn’t play to his ability or you get an injury at that position – that’s tough! And that was certainly the case with Michigan.

“Their defense was up to par. Their run game was up to par. Even their young wide receiver corps developed a little bit. I think this year, I’m maybe even more bullish on Michigan than I was a year ago. That’s going to be a great defense. They have all the makings to have a top two/three defense in the entire country. Their run game should be very consistent. Their passing game should be better. I think Shea Patterson is an upgrade. He’s the most talented quarterback that Jim Harbaugh has had since Andrew Luck – at the college level. And, if he plays to his potential, Michigan’s going to be tough to beat! Very tough to beat.

“Now, whether they win the games or not – again – timing, injuries, what’s happening – crucial play here and there. But they’ve been high quality. Even last year – and I know some people have grown stale – but if you look at last year, they were two, three, four snaps of the football away from being 10-11 wins in the regular season. They’re in every game. And if they can get some more consistent QB play, they’re going to be right there.”

While there’s always a ton of talk about Michigan’s inadequate quarterback play in 2017 or the failings of the offensive line in pass protection, youth was just as important of a reason as to why the Wolverines struggled on offense.

Despite the amount of talent Michigan has at wide receiver, it is a young corps. The Wolverines relied heavily, first, on Tarik Black, as the team’s X-receiver. After his injury, Donovan Peoples-Jones took the baton and ran with it. Those are two true freshmen.

Third-year slot receiver Grant Perry ended up leading the team in yards, and second-year Z-receiver Kekoa Crawford was involved, but has his own struggles. And while the entire group is massively talented — there’s zero doubt about that — it didn’t project to the passing game.

Why, though?

Well, because experience matters at certain positions, with wide receiver being one of them. Klatt, having experience hurling the ball to pass catchers explains why it’s important to have wideouts matriculate through the system a little bit before they become veritable vertical threats on the field.

“I think it depends on the system, candidly,” Klatt said. “If your team runs a system that’s very detail-oriented, it could take awhile. Just because those details are so specific and they’re so crucial – that everyone has to get them, they have to learn them and then they have to learn the timing as such.

“That West Coast system is that way. There’s not a lot of free-wheeling that happens where you can go out and pitch and catch. It’s a very specific system. I was raised in it – this is what I played. So, it was difficult to get younger players to understand the timing, the details and the specific nature of the spacing, in particular. So, it’s tough.

“Now, that being said, after a year on the football field, understanding game speed, the question is can Shea acclimate himself quickly to go out there and play at that speed with that level of detail? I think he can. I think he’s really talented, like I said. That’s why I’m bullish on Michigan. I think Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in college football. He’s proven that out. There’s no reason to believe why they won’t be right there, not only in the East Division, but potentially for the conference championship and potentially a playoff spot.”

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