Michigan Football: A Quarterback Away from a Championship?

Jim Harbaugh’s third season at Michigan suffered through what some might call growing pains while regressing from two consecutive 10-3 seasons to an 8-4 regular season prior the bowl game. The season is being looked at as a disappointment to say the least; failing to beat a team with an above .500 record, with an 0-2 record against chief rivals isn’t what Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million a year to do.

Despite the perception of Harbaugh having “quarterback guru” characteristics, the QB position was arguably the weakest for the Michigan offense in 2017. Losing a starter, Wilton Speight, in September to a vertebrae injury didn’t help the situation by any means. There’s also an argument to question Harbaugh’s hindsight when (RS) freshman, Brandon Peters, took the field against Rutgers and was evidently the best quarterback on the roster.

Why wasn’t he the starter from week one?

Why didn’t he start over O’Korn once Speight went down?

Why wasn’t he ready to play?

In our mindset, as observers of this program, it doesn’t make sense to not have Brandon Peters starting against Florida for week one. Before we critique how the quarterback situation was handled, something we must keep in mind is that we don’t know what was going on at the practice field. Peters may have not been ready in the eyes of his coaches and I think that Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton know a little more about football than a lot of us, including myself, do.

In Michigan’s four losses this season, some would suggest that three out of those four losses could have potentially been avoided had there been, at least, average quarterback play.

Against Michigan State, the monsoon was a noticeable factor that effected offensive play for both teams, but John O’Korn’s three interceptions were definitely difference makers in favor of the Spartans that helped result in a 14-10 heart-breaker.

There wasn’t a lot that could be been done for this team to beat Penn State in the White Out game in Happy Valley. They were the better team and they were playing their best brand of football while Michigan was playing their worst. Sure, a better quarterback may have put some more points on the board and made it somewhat of a game at least, but they straight up lost that game, got outplayed, outcoached and it was ugly.

Against Wisconsin, Brandon Peters was holding his own on the day, leading an offense that was moving the ball prior to a concussion in the 2nd half. The score was 14-10 Wisconsin’s lead at the point of losing Peters. John O’Korn came in and then Michigan’s chances for the win were gone. 24-10 final score in Madison.

Against Ohio State, John O’Korn defined his distasteful legacy at Michigan. The offensive play-calling and the game-plan was very well put together. It allowed O’Korn to consistently rely on check-down routes and for most of the game, they were able to move the ball. Michigan was faced with a 24-20 deficit coming off a short Buckeye field goal attempt, with just 2:47 left in the game that gave the O’Korn led offense a chance to control their own destiny and go up 27-24. On the first play of the drive with all the hope in the world on Michigan’s sideline, John O’Korn misses multiple open targets and throws a downfield pass to virtually no one in the area and it was intercepted and the rest was history for a 6th consecutive win in the series for Urban Meyer.

I will not say that quarterbacks were the reason for three of the losses, but I will say that they may have been a difference. Michigan had an arguable championship caliber defense, a solid backfield and young, talented receivers that were starting to create separation with their route running in late November. Is Michigan just a quarterback away from elite status? Some, including myself, believe that a top-tier quarterback play is the one missing ingredient for Jim Harbaugh’s signature season.

Brandon Peters is currently the QB1 in bowl game preparation and will be the starter for the Outback Bowl against South Carolina come New Year’s Day.

Prior to today’s official announcement, it seemed like a sure thing for Brandon Peters to be the starter for the 2018 season. Over the past few weeks, rumors and speculations became a reality when former Ole Miss sophomore quarterback, Shea Patterson, announced his decision to transfer to Michigan following his visit over the weekend.

Suddenly, this quarterback battle for 2018 just got very interesting. Let’s look at career statistics for both Brandon Peters and Shea Patterson:

Peters through 4 games: (37-64, 486 yards, 4 TDs, 57.8 completion percentage)

Patterson through 10 games: (238-392, 3,139 yds, 23 TDs, 60.7 completion percentage)

The Michigan fan base will likely have no issue with whoever wins the battle between these two, both come off as fan favorites as of late. Of course you can’t forget the sleeper candidates on the depth chart in (RS) freshman, Dylan McCaffery and true freshman Joe Milton, who will more than likely redshirt the 2018 season.

Three out of these four quarterbacks all possess the ability to extend a play with their legs; Brandon Peters has shown glimpses of good ability inside the pocket to step up and make tough throws under pressure. Shea Patterson is similar player to Johnny Manziel with a better arm, but a lesser scramble ability.

Patterson, in my guess, will be favored to be the starter in South Bend for week one. Brandon Peters’ only advantage is his prior relationship with the coaching staff and he already knows the offense. Also, Peters will get a golden opportunity in the upcoming bowl game to ball out against an 8-win SEC team and make his case for his coaches and to remind the fan base to not forget about number 18.

Jim Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t require you to be a Tom Brady, just make the simple, routine throws and don’t miss open downfield targets. Brandon Peters overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones on what would’ve been a lengthy go-ahead touchdown pass against Wisconsin, one of the very few mistakes Peters made for Michigan.

Don Brown will return a defense with more than half of his starters from the 2017 unit. This offense, that struggled heavily in 2017, will have the hopeful return of tackle, Grant Newsome, this will help an offensive line in need of improvement, youthful receivers with talent and then a solid backfield with two shifty runningbacks, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, at the helm. Now you have four talented quarterbacks to work with, three four stars and one five star coming out of high school. Pick the one who gives this team the best chance for a championship and roll with him.

Excuses are out, you have the experience, you’ve recruited the talent, you’ve brought in outside talent from the SEC and you’ve had three seasons with the program, it’s time to beat your rivals and contest for a championship. We’ll find out what Jim Harbaugh is made of come 2018. This is poised to be, yet another, typical Harbaugh quarterback battle which will be heavily storied and documented on throughout the offseason, and per usual: we won’t know who the starter is until the first snap of the season.

 

 

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THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.