Sunday Thoughts Has Five Takeaways From Michigan's Loss to Notre Dame

Sunday Thoughts Has Five Takeaways From Michigan's Loss to Notre Dame

Football

Sunday Thoughts Has Five Takeaways From Michigan's Loss to Notre Dame

Sunday Thoughts has five takeaways. Some are tangible, some not so much.

1. SAturday’s loss doesn’t matter as much as many think it does.

I’ve been on record (more so on the radio than in print) that I never felt that this game, win or lose, meant as much as many said it did. Yes, it does severely damage Michigan’s chances at going to the college football playoff, and the Wolverines will likely have to win out, and now have no margin for error going forward.

But, as I said on the radio, the winner of Michigan – Notre Dame, and the converse is in similar territory as the loser, ends up getting too much hype. The loser gets too much heat put on it.

Listen, this Jim Harbaugh hot seat stuff is laughable. If you’re a fan who wants him gone after this, I can’t begrudge your personal opinion, but I vehemently disagree with it. Michigan was in utter chaos when Harbaugh took over. People clamor: it’s year four! Yes, and the team needs to be better than yesterday’s loss proved it to be. But when you look at a lot of the very good coaches in college football, it took a few years to get things to where they needed to be. Now, some are faster than others, and one of them resides in the Big Ten East in James Franklin — who went from midseason seat that had burst into flames into division darling in his third season. Mark Dantonio took four years to get Michigan State to double digit win seasons.

I’m not excusing the loss last night. Michigan needed that win more than Notre Dame did. But it’s not the disaster many claim it to be. Especially because of the defense’s second half performance.

2. The run game has got to improve

Now, I’m gonna eliminate Will Hart’s disastrous fumbled hold here, because it wasn’t exactly a designed run, but Michigan continued its trend of not being able to muster up 3 yards-per-carry in big games. Saturday’s game against Notre Dame saw the Wolverines manage a paltry 2.15 average.

Unacceptable.

Some of that falls on the backs and some of it on the offensive line. The interior line actually looked pretty good throughout much of the game, and a colleague and I marveled during the game about how we hadn’t seen some of the holes open up the way they did early on Saturday. The combo of Bredeson and Ruiz could and should be formidable, and I saw good things out of Onwenu.

But there’s still a lot of concern.

Chris Evans only got two carries yesterday, which, okay, Karan was running alright, getting 3.43 yards-per-carry. There were only 23 carries between the two backs, which makes sense given that — though Michigan won the time of possession battle in the end — the Wolverines only had the ball for 13 minutes in the first half, and faced a big deficit as a result.

If Michigan is going to win games this season, it’s going to have to do so up front. That includes the OL and the RBs. We’ll see what they do to get the job done.

3. I thought Shea Patterson actually looked pretty good

Another dumb thing I saw after the game on social media was people claiming that Shea Patterson was awful, to go along with the Harbaugh experiment failed rhetoric.

Was he this amazing, Heisman-caliber QB who just lit everything up? No, of course not. But 20 for 30 and 227 yards is pretty damn good, despite the INT and the fumble.

I’ve seen comparisons to the Utah game in 2015, and I think that, as a whole, and with Patterson, that’s pretty apt. Same score, similar game, but there was a lot more asked of the offense somehow that game. Jake Rudock completed 62% of his passes, threw for 279 yards, but on 13 more attempts. Patterson completed 67% of his passes in his Wolverines debut and threw for more than a yard-per-attempt than Rudock.

We saw how Rudock’s season progressed.

As Chase Winovich said of the offense last night:

“The offense is – and I’m sure you guys can agree on this – defense you can get a bunch of good athletes and fast people, you could have a coach and you could blitz and things work out. But, for offense, everything needs to be in sync. We’ve had to overcome adversity with Tarik and we’re still figuring stuff out on the offensive line. You could point at a lot of stuff, but they’re going to come along and be just fine. You saw glimpses of it today, I think.”

I’ve been hammering that drum for a long time, and I agree — there were glimpses. There’s a lot of anger out there, but I don’t think it’s super warranted, beyond the final score.

It’s tough playing a tough team right out the gates, but now we know what Michigan is, and where it can go. The 2015 team under Rudock went 10-3, and should have, by win probability, gone 11-2. I think this team is a step above that, so we’ll see where Patterson leads this offense by year’s end.

4. bad defense/good defense

So, in my keys to the game piece, I had three things. One was for Shea Patterson to take what the defense was giving him, and he did that, or at least tried to. But the other two: get defensive pressure up front and contain Brandon Wimbush were a big part of Michigan’s failings in the first half. In that, if it got defensive pressure up front, it lost contain. If it contained, Wimbush had all day to throw up a 50/50 ball, which was inexplicably caught just about every time.

The other metric that concerned me was Michigan’s 3rd down conversion ratio, defensively. Harbaugh noted the stats were even for both teams, but Michigan, a year ago, was top in the country getting off the field after 3rd down, allowing only a 26% conversion rate. Yesterday? 47%, good for 92nd in the nation. That’s gotta change in a hurry.

There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds, hands that got on balls in the secondary that ended up somehow in the hands of ND receivers, etc. For awhile, it was a comedy of errors, and I personally had more hope in the offense. The first half felt like second-half Penn State a year ago. But, huge credit to the defense for clamping down. Notre Dame wasn’t in a shell as much as Michigan couldn’t stop the screen, the option, really any of the horizontal game. Until it did.

Notre Dame tried desperately to put the game out of reach, but Michigan finally found a way to stop it. But it put the offense in a bad position from the outset.

We’ll see how they rebound from here.

5. Murphy’s Law, luck of the irish or just a ‘meh’ Michigan team?

I don’t really have an answer here. I predicted a double-digit win and an 11 win season. One of those is off the table now. But, it’s probably all of the above?

The way that Michigan allowed Notre Dame to keep going early — it started with penalties — reminded me of 2016, in games like MSU. The Spartans marched down the field with ease after a Delano Hill late hit or PI (I don’t remember what it was), and yesterday felt similar. The difference? The offense isn’t potent (yet) as 2016’s was.

When Michigan wasn’t shooting itself in the foot with penalties (some deserved, some certainly unwarranted), it wasn’t finishing plays defensively. Missed tackles and balls that were there for the taking ended up favoring the Irish every time. There were certainly times where the Michigan defense looked pedestrian though, and it didn’t look as ferocious as it has previously, which is alarming. I’m not sure how much of that was Notre Dame, Michigan over-confidence going into the matchup or just an off night?

Probably a little of all three. We heard for weeks about how the defense was going to carry this team as the offense figured itself out. And the Michigan defense, still isn’t sure what hit them, either.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure where they beat us,” Chase Winovich said after the game. “I’m still kinda confused. I came into the locker room, I looked around. I was kinda confused as to how we lost that game. It didn’t feel like they dominated us in any aspect of (the ball game), but, like I said, ultimately, they made plays when they needed to, and that’s a credit to them. That’s, like I said, what football’s all about. And they limited the turnovers and we had one and weren’t able to capitalize off it. We had a lot of penalties.”

On the other side, there were chances to make plays, and some weird calls negated those opportunities. Going into a five-step drop (from what I could tell — hard to get a full view with a 300mm lens to my eye) on 2nd and 2 probably isn’t what I would have dialed up. Where was Ben Mason, Jared Wangler, VanSumeren, Matt Brown? That would have been Khalid Hill time 1-2 years ago, and it would have worked.

Overall, it was just a weird night. Michigan did okay on special teams, save for the botched snap, thus it didn’t really win any of the three phases. They’ll go back to the drawing board with plenty of time to get things sorted out before the next tough opponent hits the schedule.

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