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Four Facts/Questions About Michigan

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Numbers never lie and we’ve had an extended bye week(s) to obsess over the next game, so what have we learned about the Wolverines?

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Michigan v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Last year, before the season kicked off, we ran a feature where we found four facts in the Phil Steele preview of each team on Wisconsin’s schedule. We are going to do something similar this year, but we are also including Brett Ciancia’s Pick Six Previews in the mix. He and Steele write two of the best, if not the best, preseason college football previews and there is an absurd amount of info on each team. You buy both of those and you are set for the season.

Even though we are a few games into the season, due to the strangeness of this year there are still valuable insights to be gleaned from the preseason magazines. Let’s get down to it!

Fact No. 1: Michigan should run the ball more

What a cliched start to a post about Big Ten football, clamoring to run the dang ball, but they really should! Last year, the Wolverines had four offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft but only averaged 4.0 yards per carry (No. 89 in the country). This year, while breaking in an entirely new offensive line outside of RT Jalen Mayfield, the Wolverines are averaging over a full yard per carry better (5.1 ypc).

Michigan has only rushed the ball 27.6 times per game in their first three contests of 2020 and, while some of that has been because they are behind in games, they seem to be abandoning half of their offense before it is prudent. RB Hassan Haskins is averaging 7.9 ypc! Give him the ball! He’s only had 20 carries in three games which seems criminal.

Question 2: will the Wolverines be able to get to the quarterback?

Star DE Aidan Hutchinson is out for the season with a fractured ankle. He was the Wolverines leading returning tackler and also had 4.5 sacks last year.

While Hutchinson hadn’t recorded a sack or tackle for loss this year, he did have two QB hits and would have been a threat to go off during any game. His replacement, Taylor Upshaw, has a tackle for loss and two QB hits in limited action so perhaps the fall off won’t be too great. Kwity Paye is still on the d-line and should cause problems for the Badgers, but the Wisconsin o-line will probably key on him with consistent double teams.

Their three starting linebackers have a combined 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss through three games and with the struggles the secondary has had those numbers will need to improve. The correlation between pressure on the QB and better secondary play is undeniable and if the Badgers are forced to use a backup QB it would be wise for Michigan to dial up the pressure.

Fact No. 3: the Wolverines should play more zone and less man

The young Michigan secondary has been burned deep, repeatedly, while in man coverage and could benefit from a switch to zone more often to cover up some of their inexperience. However, it should be noted that Nick Baumgardner at The Athletic said this week ($):

Michigan did work in quite a bit of zone during this game. But Indiana also saw that Michigan’s secondary is still trying to get everyone up to speed on the finer points of how to read and react within your area as it relates to zone coverage. None of this is easy and Brown’s said it for years: It’s easier to become an expert at one (man or zone) in college than it is to become an expert at both.

Baumgardner goes on to mention that he counted three dropped interceptions against Indiana while Michigan was in zone, so it looks like the young players in the defensive backfield are learning. This goes hand in hand with the d-line producing more pressure on the QB because if they do then there will be more chances for the secondary to make plays on the ball.

Question No. 4: can Joe Milton be more accurate on deep balls?

One thing that every single defensive coach and player for Wisconsin mentioned the “arm talent” that Michigan QB Joe Milton has. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Milton is built like an armored truck and can throw the ball clear over them there mountains, by all accounts. However, a problem that the Wolverines have had this year is Milton’s accuracy on the deep ball.

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Milton’s yards per attempt this year is 8.12 while Shea Patterson’s last year was 8.03, so he is doing better in that regard, but despite his prodigious arm strength he is prone to forcing passes and making mistakes. Trevor Woods of Maize N Brew said this in our Q&A, “Overall, Milton has been inaccurate 20-plus yards down the field. He’s putting too much juice on some balls and letting them sail.”

While there is no throw Milton can’t make, there are probably some throws he SHOULDN’T make. If he can make better reads and turn deep incompletions into shorter completions, Michigan will keep drives moving and potentially score more points. #analysis