The star of the show in Michigan football the last two weeks has been the offense.
Wolverine fans haven’t been able to claim a potent offense since Week 9 of the 2016 season. Against SMU, the Wolverines won because of their offense, something they haven’t been able to say in nearly two seasons.?Following 49- and 45-point outputs in back-to-back weeks, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about this unit’s production.
The common counterpoint to that assessment is the competition Michigan’s offense found success against. It’s obvious that the team’s two easiest wins are going to be over Western Michigan and SMU — the two teams it’s found success against on offense.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying the offense is far ahead of schedule compared to where it was last season.
In 2017, Michigan’s highest scoring output was 36 in Week 2 against Cincinnati. After that, the Wolverines put up 35 against Rutgers and Maryland. It couldn’t bolster anything higher than that against legitimate in-conference foes or rivals.
Already in 2018, the Wolverines have more touchdowns to receivers than all of last season. They’ve also boasted more than 40 points twice – something they accomplished zero times in 2017.
Does that speak to this offense’s newfound success? Or to the horrid efforts of the previous stable? For now, it’s probably the latter, but, as conference play nears, the staff must realize and utilize the potential it has with two offensive superstars.
Quarterback Shea Patterson and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones are the most talented players on Michigan’s offense.
Patterson was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2016 class. Peoples-Jones was the No. 1 receiver recruit in the 2017 class.
On Saturday afternoon, Patterson completed 77-percent of his passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. All three of those scores were caught by Peoples-Jones, who caught more touchdowns in that game than all Michigan receivers combined for in 2017.
The answer to how Michigan can make this success long-term is a long one. It needs the offensive line to pick it up, Karan Higdon to be healthy and hope for a Tarik Black return.
Most of all though, Jim Harbaugh needs to let his stars be his stars. He’s got two offensively in Patterson and Peoples-Jones – and Saturday showed us how good they can be when Harbaugh lets ’em loose.
In Michigan’s sole loss to Notre Dame, Peoples-Jones had six receptions for 38 yards. That’s two more receptions than the four he had against WMU and SMU. The catch is, only one of those completions was beyond 10 yards, three were less than 10, and two were screens plays.
Not enough plays were designed – or recognized – around using Peoples-Jones in the deep game or red zone.
On Saturday, those plays were drawn up and presented themselves. The result was the best performance by a Michigan receiver since Jehu Chesson snagged four touchdowns against Indiana in 2015. Not to mention, one of the best games by a Michigan quarterback in the Harbaugh era.
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 16, 2018
Again, the competition wasn’t anything spectacular. Heck, North Texas had 444 passing yards on the Mustangs in Week 1.
Despite that, it’s not coincidental that Michigan’s offense has hit a new peak once it started letting its star quarterback be exactly that.
After only attempting two passes for over 20 yards against Notre Dame, Patterson completed all five attempts for over 20 yards against SMU – two of them for touchdowns.
No matter the competition, this unit was disabled and unable to make things happen at a high level in non-conference play last season. In back-to-back contests, the offense has been efficient with big-play ability.
We watched it happen in the second half on Saturday … but it’s time Harbaugh finds a consistent trust in the play of his star quarterback that’s proven, when given the opportunity, he delivers.