Super Mailbag: The Sky is NOT Falling, Michigan Football Edition

michigan offensive line

Super Mailbag: The Sky is NOT Falling, Michigan Football Edition

Football

Super Mailbag: The Sky is NOT Falling, Michigan Football Edition

Okay, so Michigan fans are angry — I get it. I didn’t help the issue when I underrated this Notre Dame defense — and Brandon Wimbush — and picked Michigan to win decisively.

However, it’s just one loss, and if you’re going to lose one game this entire season, honestly, Notre Dame is the best one to do so in (non-conference, first game). Not saying that the Wolverines won’t lose again down the stretch, but Saturday’s loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish isn’t the debacle many are making it out to be.

So, with that out of the way, let’s answer your mailbag questions, shall we?

The most important question asked, ha!

It was a fun weekend, save for getting up super early and driving to South Bend, driving to the hotel in Benton Harbor at 2am, and waking up early and driving back east again.

However, working from Churchill’s Cigar Bar in West Bloomfield — which I did for the bulk of Sunday afternoon and evening — is always a pleasure. (For those who don’t know, I’m a big cigar guy.)

And, while the game itself wasn’t fun, going to Notre Dame itself was fun and interesting. Being inside the stadium feels a lot like being inside Michigan Stadium. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere and environment, too.

I say absolutely.

Harbaugh was asked about this with his very last question at Monday’s press conference, and he said all things are possible. Now, Thomas did say last year that he was working on offense — much to Pep Hamilton’s chagrin the next day. But he’s so explosive as an athlete, and is reportedly the fastest player on the team, so I feel like you have to get him some touches.

I’ve been watching Ambry for years, going back to high school, and he was a dynamic playmaker in all three phases there. He also had to play wideout at The Opening before his senior year due to his team having injuries to Donovan Peoples-Jones and — I believe — Nico Collins? And he balled out.

I think it’s a matter of when, not if, Bry gets touches on the offensive side of the ball this year.

Okay, here’s the fun one. The offensive line.

First off, I know how things looked on Saturday — I was there. But I do want to caution many things right out the gates, starting with:

Just because things looked bad doesn’t mean they really are.

Stay with me here. Now, not to sound all Mike Valenti, but listen: I told you going into this game that Notre Dame’s defensive front was the strength of their team. Khalid Kareem was heavily recruited by Michigan once upon a time and chose Alabama to everyone’s surprise (I was there for that, too) before ultimately flipping to ND. Daelin Hayes wasn’t recruited heavily by Michigan, on account that he was oft-injured in his tenure at Ann Arbor Skyline. Both players are All-American caliber. Really, much of the front seven are.

Now, the tackle position did not handle that pressure well. But it’s kind of like what you expect from other teams when they have to face Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, right? I think it’s a little premature to give up on Runyan and JBB at this juncture, because we’ve only seen them in one game this season against a couple of the nation’s best ends, and a solid front seven in general. They have to be better if they want to retain their jobs, but they won their respective positions over the field for a reason — don’t forget that. The coaches know what they see every day, and they aren’t just putting guys in because they like their hair or think they’re really funny or something. They want to win way more than the most ardent of fans do, so they’re putting in personnel they believe will help them do that.

But, sometimes, things don’t go on the playing field as they do in practice. I’ve heard that quite often about some key players on last year’s team, where they couldn’t do in games what they were doing in practice. So, if the tackles aren’t holding up, Michigan very well could make a change. But it’s not going to do so before its certain that one has to be made. Let’s see how the tackles perform these next two weeks.

Yes, Benjamin St-Juste is still on the roster, but I was told by a source close to Michigan that his hamstring injury continues to linger and that he will not play this season.

I understand why Pep Hamilton gets a lot of blame, considering that the numbers in the passing game have not been stellar. But, if the offensive line fails to protect the quarterback, you’re not going to see much improvement in the passing game.

Yet, we did see it — albeit marginally — on Saturday.

Patterson, in his first game as a Wolverine, had the second-best game a Michigan QB has had in over a calendar year. It wasn’t his best performance, but it was far from his worst. He made the best of several bad situations — poor pass protection, playing from behind, noisy and hostile road environment and with the running game getting less than 3 yards-per-carry on average yet again.

Michigan’s offense was playing behind the 8-ball all game, and still it was within striking distance against a top-tier opponent on the road. Hamilton is widely regarded in coaching circles, and now he can focus more on the quarterback position rather than also with the wideouts while simultaneously getting his marching orders from not just Harbaugh, but Tim Drevno as well. Plus, last year, he was playing with the backup and third-string QBs to boot.

It’s tough to evaluate just what Hamilton is doing at Michigan in his tenure, because there’s been a lot of uncertainty in personnel, and this game was against the No. 12 ranked team. For all the clamoring for Jedd Fisch to return, remember: Michigan’s offense and passing attack did not look stellar until halfway through the 2015 season. I expect there to be similar, but less, growing pains this year.

Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt.

Really, there’s nothing much you can do if you’re the ends but keep doing what you’re doing — and what they did was right. But, the interior guys and the linebackers and the safeties can’t abandon their posts either.

What I saw, simply, was guys biting on the fake or the potential for fakes and leaving lanes wide open for Wimbush to scramble. There was one play when he was dead to rights by both Winovich and Gary, and simply stepped up into the pocket before exploding into the B-gap where there was literally no Michigan defenders in front of him. That cannot happen.

I didn’t watch closely enough to see whose fault that was, but failure to maintain gap integrity is partially what cost them in a handful of Wimbush’s runs. The other? They were killed by the screen and horizontal game, which, I don’t know enough about defense to give an accurate answer as to how you stop what Notre Dame was doing when they went to the read option to the weak-side of the field — which they did often. However, Michigan did clamp down and do a good job stopping it in the second half.

They actually had a solid game plan in doing so. As I mentioned before the game, one of my three keys was to dink and dunk on Notre Dame, because that’s where the Irish were most susceptible defensively. And, it worked, but with the run game not getting much traction — which it wasn’t going to since the Wolverines were playing from behind immediately — the very, very good Notre Dame front seven was able to key in.

Also, another reason to go with quick passes and a horizontal passing game is because of the defensive pressure being so good on Notre Dame’s end. I keep seeing people wanting more of a vertical passing game, but it’s difficult to have one when both ends are living in the backfield — as they were on Saturday. You can often negate that by going horizontal, but it didn’t have as great success as Michigan would have hoped, because those linebackers that Notre Dame has is no joke.

From what I saw — and I haven’t done a full rewatch — Onwenu, along with the rest of the interior OL looked solid. I did think Bredeson was the standout (no surprise) and that Ruiz played well, too.

And Bush should be fine. Harbaugh said on Monday that it seemed to be muscle cramping.

You mean teams like 2016 Wisconsin or Penn State?

It’s clearly Patterson’s show, and that’s to be expected.

Despite going in on Saturday, McCaffrey is actually the nominal third-stringer at this juncture, but he performed rather well in that spot duty and showed some moxie under center. Brandon Peters would have been the guy to come in, but he has an unspecified lower leg injury, per Harbaugh.

We’ll see how Patterson performs against WMU and SMU the next two weeks — and I assume we’ll also see McCaffrey in those games as well, assuming Michigan does what it should against both. But Patterson is very much entrenched as the starter, and even though we didn’t see a ton of it in his first game as a Wolverine, he’s a transcendent talent from everything I’ve seen of him ranging from Army All-American week in 2016 to his time at Ole Miss.

On Aubrey Solomon, I’m a little surprised we didn’t see more of him, but there was a definite rotation going with him and Mone and Dwumfour and Marshall next to them. Nothing wrong with him from what I’ve heard, but Mone is supposed to be the run stuffer, and I think they expected to use him more so to contain Wimbush & Co.

I was definitely surprised to not see more Chris Evans, but I think we’ll see more of him going forward. Per Harbaugh:

“(We put in) Chris in the second half, but they’re both (Higdon and Evans) equally as good. Equally would like to get the ball to them, throughout the course of a game. I don’t know if we’ll have a game where they get the exact amount of touches – per quarter or per half or per game. But we’re very confident in both our backs.”

Thought we’d see Aidan Hutchinson get some play at anchor, and maybe I just missed him. Thought we’d also see more Jaylen Kelly-Powell at free safety, but Kinnel never came off the field from what I could tell. Offensively, Michigan never really got into a rhythm to see more of the tailbacks either — really wanted to see Tru Wilson — or even more Ronnie Bell. But, aside from Evans, none are really a surprise on that side of the ball.

I didn’t rewatch much aside from the first 20 minutes or so, but that pass interference on Lavert Hill was pretty bad. They both had their arms locked, and Boykin (I think that’s who it was) pushed off, to boot.

I thought the Metellus targeting was a bad call, and ironically, I thought on the following play, Devin Bush got away with an obvious targeting penalty.

McKeon definitely was targeted. I’m meh on the Winovich late hit call, but from my view, I didn’t think he could have even slowed up and not hit him in some capacity on that play.

The officiating was definitely questionable, as it usually is when it’s so one-sided.

Harbaugh:

“Yeah, that’s something that we can improve – we’re addressing that. We were in a crowd noise situaiton, we were on the road. We had a way of getting the ball snapped in a silent cadence. We dind’t want to have more than one way in the first game of doing that. So yeah – first time center, frist time quarterback in the system. We kept it more simple, but we’ll add more layers to that, getting the ball snapped faster in a two minute situation.”

More from Harbaugh:

“We were two scores down, we went to the no-huddle, two minute type of tempo. That could be sped up. I thought the entire offense had – it was not a simple game plan. It just wasn’t. I was just speaking specifically about the cadence situation.”

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