At this point in the season, Michigan’s struggles have much more to do with its own team than it does with whichever team it’s playing. But, here are five things to keep your eyes on as the Wolverines look to play more as a complete team this weekend against Northwestern:
1. Playing 11-man football: One of the main problems Michigan has had recently on offense is that nine or 10 of the players are in position and focused. That’s great for those nine or 10 guys. That’s also great for the opposing defense because it means one or two guys aren’t. This is a product of youth and inexperience, but with the next three games of the regular season, Michigan needs to focus on having each of its guys ready to go on every single down.
2. The offensive line: It seems kind of obvious to say that Devin Gardner getting sacked seven times is a terrible thing, but with that happening two weekends in a row, well, it’s worth reiterating that the offensive line needs to make sure it protects its QB much better than it has. When it comes to pass protection, the Wolverines need to give him more time in pocket or Al Borges need to call plays a bit differently. Maybe both (probably both). Regardless, the offensive line needs to make major jumps in its cohesion and play over the next two weeks if it wants to hold a candle to Ohio State’s defensive line at the end of the month. But the first step starts with Northwestern. And not getting Gardner sacked seven times.
3. The run game: What other obvious statements can I make? Positive yardage would be a positive for the Wolverines. Obviously, the rushing stats from the Michigan State and Nebraska games are a bit skewed due to the sack yardage and the botched snaps, but even without that negative yardage, the rushing stats still aren’t impressive. Heck, if the Wolverines could rush for 50 yards this weekend that’d be a huge improvement. Actually, let’s continue adjusting these expectations: if the Wolverines can get at least four rushes of five or more yards that’ll be an improvement from last weekend.
4. The defensive line getting more pressure: With the linebacker rotation going really well right now, the middle of Michigan’s defense is very solid. However, the Wolverines won’t have a stout front seven until the front four can live up to that. Frank Clark has been solid in the pass rush, but he needs to get some help from his three other linemen. With the two-quarterback system alive and well at Northwestern, this will be a big test for the Michigan front seven.
5. Playing on the road. Two years ago, there seemed to be more maize than purple and though NU has made a push to be Chicago’s Big Ten team, the Wolverines definitely have a footprint in the Windy City. That being said, Michigan hasn’t played well away from Ann Arbor. This would be a good first step for the Wolverines as Iowa certainly won’t be as maize and blue friendly as Evanston.