Michigan coach Brady Hoke gave his team a bit of a lighter schedule during this bye week -- getting back to practice Thursday while doing lifting and conditioning throughout the week. Hoke said they would focus on getting the team healed a bit and begin thinking about Michigan State (Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.
Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.
Michigan will always start up front, so that seems a good place to begin. The offensive line has gone through multiple starting lineups, and still, nine weeks into the season, the Wolverines don’t know what their best unit is up front.
Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.
“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.
Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.
However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.
The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.
“We’re not becoming a spread team but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”
Michigan’s defense looked so solid up until last week.
But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.
Mattison said he’d spend every second this week planning for the Spartans’ attack, which has gotten stronger every game since Connor Cook took the starting QB job. But even with that, Mattison said he feels good about what kind of team will take the field in a week in East Lansing.
“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”
The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.
If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.
The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.
Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.
“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”