Michigan Monday is up at the Ozone.
Every road conference win is a good win and Saturday night's 29-26 win at Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) for Michigan (6-2, 3-1) was no different, even if the Wolverines did look a bit odd along the way.
In the end, however, the Michigan defense won the game on a goal-line stand that should have been unnecessary, but thanks to the Gophers' buffoonery it absolutely was not. In a game that saw Minnesota's offense receive a number of baffling breaks, when they had to have a single yard, they just couldn't get it. Twice.
The weird parts came soon after that 14-3 lead, however, and then kept coming. Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner was completing passes to falling receivers, receivers who were open simply because of the inaccuracy of the pass, and even one off of a Michigan defender's hands. We can call them flukes if you want, but they happened because the Wolverine defense didn't make the plays that were available to them, and that's the one thing a coach is going to ask of every single one of his players. Still, the most surprising part for me was how well Minnesota ran the ball — and they only ran for 166 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry — but don't tell me you weren't surprised by it either. The Michigan defense has set a standard for itself that now sees 166 yards on the ground as something wrong, and that's a very, very good thing. In the end, however, we can impugn Michigan's defense all we want for the 461 yards they gave up, but Minnesota had two shots from inside the 1-yard line to win the game and neither came close to getting into the end zone. For that reason alone, it was a very successful day for the Wolverine defense.
I applaud Michigan trying whatever they can to get a running game going, from the reverses with receiver Jehu Chesson, to all of the different things they do with Jabrill Peppers. Jim Harbaugh recognizes that every little bit counts and the more explosion he can get to his offense, the easier everything else becomes.
Michigan is No. 110 in the nation in number of plays that gain 10 or more yards from scrimmage. They have just 92 such plays in eight games. They are tied with Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette and, most egregiously, Syracuse.
Of Michigan's 30-yard runs, two are by receiver Jehu Chesson, two are by De'Veon Smith, one belongs to tailback Ty Isaac and another to fullback Joe Kerridge. That's six total. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott each have five a piece. Heck, even OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett has two and he's carried the ball 63 fewer times.
The numbers are no better in terms of big plays in the passing game, which will surprise absolutely nobody reading this. Their 20 receptions of at least 20 yards is No. 97 in the nation. The five receptions of at least 30 yards is No. 121 in the nation, and bested by 39 individual wide receivers. Michigan is also one of 14 teams that have not had a 50-yard completion this season.
Minnesota attacked Michigan's safeties and linebackers in the passing game, which is something that I've been saying teams should do for a while now. Early in the game, every third down pass was aimed at a safety, and they were successful in picking up first downs.
The Gophers also caught linebacker Desmond Morgan in coverage against running back Shannon Brooks, which turned into a 40-yard gain on a wheel route. Though to term it "coverage" would be giving Morgan an enormous amount of credit. It was overall a pretty rough game for Morgan defending the pass and they attacked him on the sideline and over the middle.
Ross's first huge play came early in the fourth quarter when he sacked Leidner on third-and-7 from the Minnesota 23 for a 12-yard loss. The Gophers punted the ball from the 11-yard line, but it went out of bounds at their own 40-yard line. This left backup quarterback Wilton Speight with just a 40-yard drive in order to put the ball in the end zone, which was clearly a manageable number. Could he have done it from 80 yards? Because of the sack by Ross, we didn't have to find out.
When Michigan was Jabrill Peppers:
It's pretty clear that we need a new area to talk about defensive back/running back/wildcat/slot receiver/icon Jabrill Peppers because with everything he is doing on offense, defense and special teams, it's just easier to centrally locate it all. I wasn't charting it, but just off hand I can remember him lining up at running back, quarterback, slot receiver, cornerback, nickel back, and probably safety. He was even the boundary cornerback, which asks him to run defend more than field corner. I believe he played 92 snaps total. They really have no worries about putting him anywhere on this offense or defense, and they shouldn't.
A year ago I voted for the top 15 players in the B1G for a magazine before the season started and I put Peppers at No. 15 before he ever played a game. I don't know if he is an All-Big Ten player this season because he doesn't really have a home, but I doubt if you let the B1G coaches have a draft that he would last 15 spots.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan's offense is what it is at this point, but Jim Harbaugh is doing his absolute damnedest to make it more of what it isn't. He is trying to give it more explosion, but along the way he is also forced to entertain the neighborhood kids with sparklers because that's what he has the most of. This is an offense without a dynamic runner or thrower, and Peppers and Chesson aren't going to change it enough to make this a running game worth fearing. It does need to be respected because De'Veon Smith is a brute, Drake Johnson is an athlete, and the fullbacks are sneaky, but none of them should be feared by a defense.
So what happens if the Michigan defensive line isn't getting a push and they are facing an offense that has receivers outside and inside and they can also run the ball from every angle as well? That's a lot to ask of any defense, and in a few weeks the Buckeyes will be asking it of Michigan.
As always, there is a ton, ton more. Go to the link. Worth your time for another read.
My two cents: I'll be happy with 8 - 4 given the last two games. And if we manage to beat OSU, well, Harbaugh has some scary incredible juju that is beyond anything I've ever seen.