Call it a fluke, call it luck, call it whatever you will, but Michigan has had an extremely difficult time the past two weeks in terms of inferior opponents exploiting some major weaknesses. Combine that with just plain bad football, it’s an eventual recipe for disaster. But, alas, not yet. The team is still 4-0.
The upcoming bye week will be a welcomed sight for this team as they get an extra week to prepare for their conference opener against Minnesota. What better way to get back on the right track by defeating a rival at home and being rewarded with the Little Brown Jug for their efforts.
Until then, here are five pressing issues the Wolverines MUST fix or at least address in order to continue their winning ways.
1. Devin Gardner
Of course, Devin Gardner is just a fraction of the teams woes. In the big picture according to some fans, this fraction is the most spotlighted and scrutinized. What is exactly wrong with him? This is something that the coaches can only do so much with in the next two weeks. This is up to Gardner to fix, learn and grow on his own. He is far too smart to continue playing football at level beneath him.
Gardner is only human, he can only do so much to help his cause. Football is not a one-man sport (THE TEAM), but he is certainly not putting his team in position to succeed, not in the slightest. His confidence was shattered against Akron and early struggles against UConn derailed him and put him right back in to square one just like the week prior. The offense needs to start out strong to build their confidence back as a unit. The rest will take care of itself.
If Gardner can be smarter with the football, it will cut down on the turnovers — it’s not rocket science. Throwing the ball up for grabs or trying to force a ball into an area where a window is simply not there will not slow down his increasing interception to touchdown ratio. Gardner needs to be smarter, make better reads and hold on to the football. That will come with time as he slowly gains his confidence back. Talent alone will not complete the passes, he needs to trust himself first.
2 and 3. Offensive and defensive lines
This issue is so pressing I decided to combine points two and three into a singular point.
There is no sugarcoating this, both lines have been awful. There has been no pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and have seen defenses constantly breathe down Gardner’s neck. It hasn’t been pleasant.
Granted the offensive line is young and inexperienced doesn’t make it an acceptable reason for bad play, it is absolutely part of the reason why the unit as a whole has struggled mightily this season. The offensive line is missing blocks, allowing defensive players open shots on Gardner and the running backs and is simply not allowing time for plays to develop. It’s incredibly frustrating from an outsiders perspective. Though there isn’t a quick fix for these issues, juggling positions until the line becomes serviceable is a real possibility. More than likely, this will be an issue for the rest of the season.
The defensive line has also been very underwhelming. Michigan is missing that vicious defensive line presence a la Brandon Graham, and it shows. Pressure on the quarterback is few and far between, runners hardly ever get swallowed up in the backfield. The offense already is putting pressure on the defense to perform by turning the ball over, it should reciprocate by being at the level it was advertised to begin the season.
Outside of Jeremy Gallon, who else do you have that have performed to his level to begin the season? That’s the issue with the receivers right now. Granted, everyone has played awful during this two game stretch, but the receivers aren’t giving Gardner any help. The receivers must do a better job of getting open and utilizing the cushions in coverage. Hemmingway or Roundtree isn’t walking through the door, the jump ball-hail mary throw is useless now.
Chesson, Dileo, Jackson, Funchess and Butt must do more to get involved in the offense.
5. Consistency in the running game
Last week against UConn, Michigan had a 100-yard rusher whose name was not Gardner nor Robinson. Fitz finished with a solid 120 yards on the ground and was a key component to the victory. Consistency in the running game needs to happen each week. Again, there are obvious reasons why the running game hasn’t been successful, but Michigan has to make it work in order to stand a chance against the better teams of the Big Ten. One 100 yard game is great, there needs to be more. Michigan needs to rely on Toussaint to give them the tough yardage, the crucial first down, or successful goal line plays. It can’t rely on that if there is not any consistency there.