View from the Sidelines: How Michigan found a way, and saved its season Comment Count

Ethan Sears September 30th, 2018 at 12:29 PM


EVANSTON — Following Jim Harbaugh, Warde Manuel squeezed into a back room within the bowels of Ryan Field with a security escort, the door nearly hitting a plastic chair, the room itself with barely enough room to fit another person.


Unlike Michigan’s head coach, Manuel didn’t have an obligation — he was here of his own volition, walking into a cramped press conference instead of taking an early seat on the bus and avoiding the hassle.


“We gonna find a way,” he said to nobody in particular, evangelizing.


The Wolverines haven’t always lived up to that. Four weeks ago, it was Notre Dame they found a way. Countless times, it has been Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa that has found a way, with a special emphasis on doing so of late. On Saturday, it was Michigan that found a way, eking out its biggest comeback since 2011 and beating Northwestern 20-17.


[After THE JUMP: Keep reading and find out]


In the locker room at halftime, the Wolverines down 10 points and lucky Pat Fitzgerald hadn’t tried to make it more, Don Brown told a defense that had looked completely out of place early, as the Wildcats drove seemingly at will, to just play its game.


“He just knew what we were capable of,” Josh Uche said. “He just told us to settle down, go out there and play our ball. Play the ball that we’ve been practicing since who knows when — since the last season was over.”


In the second half, Michigan’s pass rush was at Clayton Thorson in seeming instants. The Wolverines ended five of Northwestern’s six drives in sacks, including the last of the game. When the Wildcats got the ball with four minutes to go and timeouts to play with, Brown dialed up blitz after blitz and was duly rewarded.


After getting torched by slants during the first half, MIchigan’s secondary got physical. Northwestern failed to do much from then forward, as the slants stopped hitting and its run game never found rhythm. It finished the game averaging 3.2 yards per play, including the first half.


Michigan’s defense found a way.


“When we were down, I looked each person in the eye, because I didn’t want the message to be dispelled,” Chase Winovich, who had nine tackles, three TFLs and a sack to his name, said. “I said, ‘This is the point where we’ve gotta double down on all the hard work that we’ve done, and the preparation that we’ve gone through. And they can’t take this from us.’ Even when we were losing I said that. It was our game.”


One of those people was Shea Patterson. Well on his way to completing the worst game of his career at Michigan, failing to take advantage of good protection and seeming to just miss a few receivers even when catches were made, Patterson turned his game on a dime.


With 10 minutes to go, his best drives of the second half having been two missed red zone opportunities (one of which included a dropped interception in the end zone), Patterson seized the moment in a way the Wolverines’ quarterbacks simply haven’t been able to in the past.


“We kinda looked each other in the eyes,” Winovich said, “and he said, ‘Pass it back and forth, can you take care of what you need to take care of? We’re gonna score this ball. We’re gonna score this touchdown.’ ”


Patterson had run over to a few defensive huddles over the course of the second half, he said, telling them, “Hey, I got you. Just a few more stops and we’ll play through it.”


On third down, the Wildcats’ pass rush at his feet, Patterson took it himself. He scrambled for nine all-important yards, both taking Michigan well into field goal range and saving a drive — and within it, a game the Wolverines simply could not afford to lose.


Two plays later, Patterson found Zach Gentry down the seam, exploiting the tiniest of windows. Sitting in the press box, it seemed, for a brief second, as though Northwestern had intercepted the ball, because there was no possible other outcome for a pass like that, or at least there’s not supposed to be.


“I just saw them drop into two-high, it was a two-shell, possibly Cover-4,” Patterson said. “We had Gentry, he’s 6-foot-8, over the middle. And I think they gave up a lotta stuff over the middle and I think we adjusted in the second half. Just let your guy go make a play. Put it in the vicinity. That’s the type of guy Zach Gentry is, and he made a big play by coming up with that ball.”


Shea Patterson found a way.


Think, for a minute, about where the conversation around Michigan football would be, collectively, had the Wolverines failed to come back. Think, what the rational extrapolation from the gauntlet staring Michigan in the face after playing Maryland next week — Wisconsin, at Michigan State, Penn State — would be.


Think, for a minute, about the possibility of 7-5, because had the Wolverines lost this game, that would have been staring them in the face.


“On the road, down 17-0 at one point, we needed to lay down and take a beating or come together and fight through adversity,” Patterson said. “And I think all around, collectively, we just did a tremendous job of doing that tonight.”


Saturday, in a dingy little stadium against an overachieving opponent, the choice was to find a way or change this season’s outlook, and lower its ceiling, drastically. Michigan found a way.



September 30th, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

I'd like to talk about the stadium. This was my first time there, and honestly I liked the design, with the towers and the angle of the seating making sure that having tall people in front of you was no obstacle.

But holy hell are they unequipped for a crowd. There was massive congestion at all entrances, people having to stand in the aisles because the seat spacing is too narrow, no possible way to get to the concourse and back unless you wanted to miss an entire quarter,  and at the half some ushers started a "no readmission" policy...seemingly on their own decision. 

It's a good thing that Northwestern and Michigan fans are among the more reasonable, because that could have gotten ugly/dangerous.


September 30th, 2018 at 12:54 PM ^

A win is a win. This would not have been a good loss despite all the intangibles in Northwestern’s favor. At the end of the day the team played well enough to win. If they want to do so in the marquee games they’re going to have to execute better. Gritty effort though and one to commend. Northwestern’s D is legit.


September 30th, 2018 at 8:26 PM ^

Expected losses?  I don't get this.  You should never expect to lose.  App State took PSU to overtime just a few weeks ago at home! Almost every championship season has a game or two where you don't play your best but yet you find a way to win. I found so much to like in this game.  Yes, they looked totally unprepared and flat at first.  But when they woke up, I saw a team with laser focus and performed under pressure. I expect Michigan to win the next 6 games setting up a showdown in Columbus for east division champions.


October 1st, 2018 at 11:26 AM ^

Expected loss because northwestern was considered a weak team and took us to the ropes. If we lose that game, thinking we can beat msu psu with the way things have been in recent years looks dauting at best. Too many people get so defensive and freak out if someone predicts anything but undefeated national championship...get real folks, it happens.


September 30th, 2018 at 1:11 PM ^

These are the games the previous two coaching staffs would lose.  At the game, you could feel that the game was going to turn and we’d find a way to win.  Shea came to the side of the bench to get the Michigan fans cheering during the 4th quarter.  He didn’t hide on the bench.  They were battling, not packing it in.  They found a way to win and have now built some confidence that will pay off down the road.  They can stop the bleeding.  They learned what it takes to win.

The Man Down T…

September 30th, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

In a strange way, I think the schedule is helping us along.  Michigan started the season against the team that showed them exactly what the weaknesses were.  Each team after that was a test of one aspect but not a tough test, allowing them to get better. Northwestern is a check game to see how they've progressed. Going into teams that will challenge them a lot more.

I think we can say the O-Line is better than the opening of the season.  The receivers and QB are on track for the most part.  The run game needs more innovation. The Special teams is special.  Very special.  Like punt from our 30 and still pin your ass at your own 5 special.  

This game showed that this team has the ability to get punched and come back from it.  It is improving each week even though it didn't look like it much.  If they finish 2 drives, the game is in hand in the 3rd quarter.  Northwestern gives Michigan fits when they visit them.  It's just their thing.  Bring on Maryland.  They are a decent team, probably better than NW, and let's see some more improvement.


September 30th, 2018 at 5:23 PM ^

Also Shea has shown enough as a runner that I think they'll get him going there in some of the upcoming big matchups. 

Looks like he's missed some pulls per UFR but I don't totally hate that given we need him upright after Thanksgiving. 

It was encouraging that he took advantage of that tendency last night with a useful 31 yards that counted and two long ones called back on holds.

Wolverine 73

October 1st, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

Couple more points too: NW had two weeks to prepare for Michigan, which is a big advantage.  Also, their desperate need to win was probably a 9 on the 10 point scale, after a couple mind-boggling losses.  Throw in the fact their starting running back had to retire because of stenosis, and you have the makings of a fired-up team that gives you its best game.  

Diagonal Blue

September 30th, 2018 at 1:46 PM ^

I re-watched the game expecting to be completely disgusted and I wasn’t. Biggest takeaways:

First let me be captain obvious, team has to be ready to start games on the road both offensively and defensively. Can’t keep putting ourselves in situations where we have to come back. Against better teams it won’t happen.

Defense played lights out in the 2nd half. I was really pleased with some of our young DL. Paye, Uche, and Dwumfour all made plays. It was good to see Don Brown finally play two high safeties and be less aggressive with the linebackers. UM was getting gashed playing single high in the first half because the scouting report is out and  everyone knows it, attack the slot because our safeties just aren’t very good. They can’t even cover simple slant routes. So the solution is either start dropping linebacker in those throwing lanes or play more two high which the finally did. Oh and please stop this rotation at LB with Ross and Gil, Ross has won that spot.

Offense was better than I thought on second watch mainly because there just weren’t many possessions in the game. It was good to see Shea make some plays with his legs finally. He missed some open guys and I think he needs to start checking the ball down a tad more instead of forcing it downfield all the time. Also left the pocket prematurely a few times when he didn’t have to. On a similar note, OL played fantastic. Had a couple breakdowns but by and large gave Shea a ton of time to throw. Big improvement from last year. Red zone play calling could use some work but that last TD was a beautiful design.

Higdon is our best back and runs extremely hard, but he doesn’t get any yards that the OL doesn’t get for him. There were so many times he could have made a cut on zone runs that would have given us huge yardage that he didn’t make and instead he just barreled into the pile. I don’t know if he’s being coached to simply go where the play is supposed to go but it’s severely limiting our running game. On power plays there were several times he didn’t wait for the guard to get around on his pull and instead ran right up his ass for no gain on what otherwise is a well blocked play. He needs to run with better vision and patience. Extremely excited for Charbonnet and Gray next year, two bonafide top 100 recruits. The backs have to start creating more yardage on their own because the OL is doing its job.

Will Hart is the most improved player on the team and a huge reason UM won yesterday. So impressed with the improvement this kid has made.  Also nice to see Nordin make a few clutch kicks.

Refs were atrocious as usual. Time for Warde to pick up the phone and make a call to the B1G office because this is beyond fucking ridiculous. It’s not just the calls on UM it’s the non calls on the other teams, two penalties for NW? Come the fuck on. Winovich got tackled on the second to last play of the game right in front of the ref and no call. Just absurd.


September 30th, 2018 at 2:10 PM ^

Yes, we averaged 8.2 ypa and 4.3 ypc, decent numbers.  We just didn't have that many possessions.  Our drives:

3 plays, 1 yard (punt)

3 plays, -1 yard (punt)

6 plays, 21 yards (downs) - McKeon's drop

7 plays, 79 yards (TD)

4 plays, 42 yards (punt) - false start prevented us from going for it on 4th down

3 plays, 7 yards (punt) - holding penalty killed the drive (we actually gained 17 yards on the three plays)

11 plays, 69 yards (FG)

11 plays, 56 yards (FG)

3 plays, -6 yards (punt) - the phantom hold on Higdon 

11 plays, 67 yards (TD)

6 plays, 16 yards (punt)

Only 11 possessions.  We looked out of sync those first two drives but then seemed to get settled in, and after that it was basically a matter of not getting flagged for (real or imagined) penalties.  Two critical plays - McKeon's drop and the phantom hold - probably prevented this from being a comfortable win.


September 30th, 2018 at 3:11 PM ^

Good breakdown by drive.  The McKeon drop was extremely significant because of its timing.  We had finally started to move the ball. Instead, NW preserved early momentum.  The Higdon holding call is a disgrace.  28 yard gain erased + 10 yard penalty.  Calls that bad will lead to interesting investigations as states legalize sports betting following Supreme Court decision.

More concerning - failure to punch in TD's prior to short field goals.


September 30th, 2018 at 8:33 PM ^

Northwestern Defense by design does not give up big plays often.  They are a "bend but don't break" defense.  They make you be patient and hope you get frustrated or make a mistake. Not always going to have a bunch of splash plays. This is the type of game Michigan going to play against MSU and Wisconsin. Everything is earned.  Michigan will have some splash plays against Maryland and PSU.