Where Pep Hamilton Has Seen the Most Growth From the Michigan Passing Offense

pep hamilton michigan

Where Pep Hamilton Has Seen the Most Growth From the Michigan Passing Offense

Football

Where Pep Hamilton Has Seen the Most Growth From the Michigan Passing Offense

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There have been two major differences when it comes to why Michigan has been so much better this season compared to last, and both of them start on offense.

First, perhaps the most glaring issue was on the offensive line — a unit that couldn’t protect the quarterback, and saw two injured in the process. The Wolverines were 114th in the country a year ago in sacks allowed. But then, Michigan went out and got former OL journeyman coach Ed Warinner — who made the biggest name for himself during Ohio State’s College Football Playoff run — and changed the fortunes almost overnight. The Wolverines now are 23rd in the country in sacks allowed.

It’s been a night and day difference, as Michigan pass game coordinator Pep Hamilton says, since Warinner has come in and simplified what his newfound unit was doing up front, while playing to the strengths of the Wolverines quarterback, protection-wise.

“Ed’s been great,” Hamilton said. “He’s been great – he brings a certain level of expertise in the stylish offense that (QB Shea Patterson) was probably most familiar with prior to coming to Michigan. Ed’s been great and the guys up front, they’re working hard, they’re playing together. And we’ve been able to run the football.”

While the OL development might be the most important overall, the Wolverines have gone from good to great due to the play under center.

Patterson, the former Mississippi QB, has come in and done what’s been asked of him.

While his tenure at Ole Miss saw him slinging the ball around — he had 3,139 yards in 10 games in the Rebels air raid system — he’s mostly had to just manage while in Ann Arbor.

But, while managing the game, Patterson has been the ultimate difference-maker in taking things over when things perhaps aren’t going the Wolverines way.

He led the game-winning drive on the road in Evanston when Michigan was down at Northwestern. When the offense was struggling to finish in the red zone against Indiana, Patterson engineered a touchdown drive, and then another to put the Wolverines back in field goal position to put the game away.

Though, the season didn’t start out to look the way it’s turned out for Patterson.

Against Notre Dame, the offense sputtered. The next several weeks saw some big plays, but it wasn’t consistent. It wasn’t until the Week Seven game against Wisconsin when the offense started to look explosive — which coincided with Patterson using designed runs and the read-option.

Hamilton says that getting acclimated to the system and his teammates were the biggest factors that have helped Patterson become a better quarterback down the stretch. There’s several playmakers he can count on, and as they’ve all gained familiarity over the course of the year, it’s made Patterson and the Michigan offense that much more formidable.

“I’ve seen him grow and develop more continuity with his teammates,” Hamilton said. “Shea’s played a lot of good football over his college career – even prior to him being here at Michigan. But, seeing him go out and make the plays that he’s made recently with Zach Gentry, with Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and the rest of our guys, that’s just a continual improvement over the course of the season just based on time on task together.”

But what makes Patterson so special is his ability to do things that aren’t strictly drawn up before the game. And Hamilton and Michigan realize that.

Given his ability to improvise, extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield, and use his legs both behind the line of scrimmage and beyond it, that’s helped the Wolverines offense take that next step forward.

Naturally, the biggest reason for the success comes from the coaching staff understanding what it has in Patterson and playing to his strengths — though, sometimes, that comes with some trepidation from time to time.

“With all our players, we look to put them all in the position to do the things that they do best,” Hamilton said. “So, with Shea, he can make throws from the pocket, he can make the off-schedule plays. There are times when he’ll make a play that’s a wild play and I can’t say we rehearse some of the things that come about in the game – especially the times when you see him scramble and make that throw across his body back across the field. I pretty much cringe every time that happens, but he seems to come out on the right side of it.”

When he transferred to Michigan, it was a foregone conclusion that Patterson would win the starting job, but he had plenty of competition, with incumbent QB Brandon Peters, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and true freshman Joe Milton all ready to challenge him for the job.

But, Patterson came to Ann Arbor with an open mind and a blue collar work ethic. Because of that, the staff knew they had something special in the works.

“We knew it early on, just because of how he worked to prepare himself mentally,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s more than half the battle. A lot of guys can retain information, but they can’t always go out and apply it to their game. He’s a guy that’s a film junkie – he loves watching film. He’ll ask the right questions. You’ll see him go out and make those good decisions on game day.

“Football is important to Shea and he works hard at it. He’s working just as hard as he’s always worked to prepare for a game this week. Try to make sure he don’t eat too much turkey on Thursday, but he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”

Going from 111th a year ago to 87th doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is. The Wolverines aren’t trying to pass the ball like crazy, relying more on the run game to lead the way. Michigan is attempting two less passes per game, and the rushing offense has helped immensely — rising from 49th with 177.7 yards-per-game to 23rd with 219.2.

But, aside from that, the receivers have been significantly improved from last year’s outfit.

A year ago, the top three receivers each had just over 300 yards on the season through 13 games. Now, through 12 games, three are just shy of 500, and the pass catchers have more yards on the season already than they had a year ago.

Why has there been such a change? It’s not just the quarterback, Hamilton says. They’ve learned how to get open, make tougher catches, and do the little things that they hadn’t before. New receivers coach Jim McElwain has certainly made an impact, but Hamilton believes that it’s also crucial that the young group got more experience.

“You see it in the results in the production,” Hamilton said. “I think, once again, it’s time on task together. It’s continuity. It’s trust. That’s one of the things we see now in our passing game, even compared to our first game of the season. The timing in which the quarterback’s pulling the trigger and getting the ball out of his hands. And then, you’ve seen guys making plays.”

Though he only leads tight end Zach Gentry by 2 yards, the most explosive playmaker for the Wolverines has been second-year wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has 200 more yards than he did a year ago, in two less games, with 477. He leads the team with 7 touchdown receptions, and is quarterback Shea Patterson’s go-to.

Hamilton says that the biggest thing for Peoples-Jones is actually that he’s more injury free compared to a year ago. But, his will to show out for his city and his university have also played a big part in why he’s transformed his game.

“You expect that guys are going to make their biggest improvement from their freshman year to their sophomore year,” Hamilton said. “I think for Donovan, it’s probably been more so that he’s been healthier this year than he was last year at this point in the season. Not surprised at all that he’s making the plays that he’s making. He is an exceptional athlete. He has a great combination of explosion and speed and just the will to go out and make plays.

“He carries it on his shoulder now, I’ll tell you, he’s very proud of his Detroit roots and Michigan – it’s flowing through his blood. It’s important for him and his family to see our program have success and he’s putting it all on the field for us.”

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