Nick Sheridan; Steve Threet
Just like every Michigan fan, I sat dumbfounded for the first four minutes of the game against Notre Dame on Saturday. Throughout the offseason, Michigan fans were so adamant that Notre Dame is a horrible team. And they were right, to an extent. But none of us thought Michigan would be horrible-er. Michigan dominated every single statistical category on Saturday, except for the two most important ones: turnovers and the scoreboard. Based on this game, a few position battles are finally becoming clear:
QB: Steven Threet vs. Nick Sheridan
Threet started the game this week, and Rodriguez had said that Sheridan would probably get some snaps, too. It turns out that Threet played so well that Sheridan didn't get any snaps until late in the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided and Threet was hobble by a leg injury. In fact, not only did Threet outplay anything Sheridan has done so far this year - he outplayed Notre Dame's 5-star, all-everything golden boy, sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Threet was 16-for-23 for 179 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. Several of those incompletions weren't his fault, either. A couple were straight-out drops by Martavious Odoms and Greg Mathews in the rain; one incompletion should have been a long TD pass to Mathews, but the referee erroneously said Mathews didn't control the ball before it touched the ground. Nick Sheridan entered the game in the fourth quarter and threw two interceptions. One wasn't his fault - it was almost directly at tight end Carson Butler's head, but Butler didn't turn around fast enough - but the other was a floater thrown into double or triple coverage.
Verdict: Threet will be the starter unless his injury causes him to miss significant time.
RB: Sam McGuffie vs. Brandon Minor/Carlos Brown/Kevin Grady/Michael Shaw
If any questions remained after last week's game against Miami (OH), McGuffie answered them this week. McGuffie broke tackles repeatedly on the way to his first career 100 yard game. He had a couple electrifying plays, including a quick screen pass on which he weaved through traffic and bounced off a downfield Perry Dorrestein block to score a 40-yard TD. He also didn't fumble, which was key on a day when Michigan's other players fumbled a ridiculous seven times. Brandon Minor continues to run the ball well - he had a tough 9-yard run - but he also continues to turn the ball over, even though his turnovers might not be his fault. In the Utah game, his "fumble" happened because his forearm hit the ground, which should have ruled him down. In the Notre Dame game, "his" fumble was a quick swing pass that Threet might have thrown too soon; as soon as Minor turned his head around, the ball was almost in his facemask. Minor probably should have caught it, but I think that was a combo effort. Carlos Brown continues to be nagged by small injuries and he's done zilch with his two carries this season. Kevin Grady produces more fumbles than a 16-year-old trying to unclasp a bra for the first time; even though he carried a Notre Dame linebacker on his back for five yards to score a TD, his ball security has been a career-long issue. Shaw has the best pure speed of any of the running backs, but he's currently fighting a groin pull.
Verdict: It's McGuffie's job to lose, but I expect everyone to continue getting an occasional carry.
FS: Steve Brown vs. ANYBODY
I'm not the world's biggest Steve Brown hater. I won't jump on the pile, because he seems like a decent kid and he obviously doesn't mean to make these mistakes (unlike Carson Butler, who ought to be kicked off the team for throwing a punch in the Notre Dame game). But I have a hard time believing that he is far and away the best option at free safety for this Wolverines team. He is probably the best physical specimen that Michigan has had at the position. He's 6' and around 205 lbs. and he has pretty darn good speed. However, anyone can see that he's uncomfortable playing in space. He misses way too many tackles in the open field, and that's exactly what you don't need in a free safety. He should probably move to strong safety and let Brandon Harrison have the free safety spot, because Brown is more effective as a tackler when he's playing downhill and attacking the line of scrimmage. If that can't happen, then the coaches should give fifth year senior Charles Stewart or redshirt freshman Michael Williams or sophomore Artis Chambers a shot. Brown has been neither a ballhawk or a solid tackler, so I see no significant reason to keep him on the field full-time week after week.
Verdict: I would not be surprised to see a switch or a schematic change for the Wisconsin game in two weeks. The coaching staff should know by now that Brown's slip-ups are habits, not flukes.
So- I see all these comments about Threet as the guy for the rest of the season. I am far from sold on his ability to direct this offense. To be fair, Sheridan isn't going to be a great QB either. Threet's lack of accuracy is incredibly frustrating, and his mechanics seem very very sketchy.
What I do prefer about Sheridan is the accuracy I've seen on the short routes. If he can refrain from spazzing out and heaving ducks downfield (and that is a major if), he should be our guy. Granted, if we get down and have to play from behind, I think we're screwed anyway(and in those cases, Threet's "armstrength" might be advantageous). If Sheridan can channel his inner Brian Griese and be a "caretaker" kind of QB, and we can establish some consistency in the ground game, there might be something to work with. Quite honestly, there is not a receiver on the squad I trust to make big plays down the field with any kind of consistency. If Mathews can get back healthy, Magee should work on a gameplan that incorporates lots of slants and short, quick throws that took Sheridan to the point of being 11-14 at one point against Utah. The pessimist in me thinks the only way yardage is going to acrue in the passing game is via WR's and RB's making people miss (ala McGuffie, Odoms, Shaw).
This is not an attempt to ballwash Nick Sheridan! I do not think he's a great QB by any stretch or the long-term answer to anything. But if constrained to a gameplan that minimizes his chances of fucking up, I think he can guide the team to a few wins.
I also definitely agree with some others when they suggest that a decision needs to be made either way so one of the QB's has a chance to get more reps in practice. If it's Threet - great, get him more snaps so he work on timing and accuracy (eeesh, ugly). If it's sheridan, fine, get him going!
If the "D" can continue to be physical and well-conditioned, we should at least be able to prevent situations where the offense has to play from behind - of course, several games are unlikely to be winnable regardless.