After Michigan?s 31-20 win over Indiana, the Wolverines have scored 30 points in eight out of 11 games. They?ve topped 40 six times. On the season, they are averaging 36.6 points per game ? good for 17th in the nation and second in the Big Ten.
And yet, it is hard to feel that Michigan?s offense has maximized its potential. Not because players are underperforming but because it hasn?t taken advantage of its opportunities.
The postgame questions following Saturday?s win centered around freshman kicker Jake Moody, who hit a program record six field goals in his first career start. What they mostly ignored is the root cause of coach Jim Harbaugh needing to trot Moody out six times ? the Wolverines? red zone offense that managed just one touchdown and six field goals on eight trips inside the 20.
?Yeah,? Harbaugh said, ?all six field goals resulted from us being stopped in the red zone.?
As usual, though, both he and his players refused to delve into any struggles. Eleven weeks ago, when Michigan dropped its season-opener and its offensive line was criticized across the country, press conferences remained upbeat and full of optimism, resorting to platitudes to describe any struggles.
Saturday?s presser was much of the same. All three available offensive players ? quarterback Shea Patterson, running back Karan Higdon, and tight end Nick Eubanks ? were asked about the red zone offense at least once.
Here?s a sampling of their answers, respectively:
It?s just playing in the Big Ten.
We didn?t execute as well as we wanted to.
?We just didn?t execute well enough.
Maybe this is a second iteration of the early season offensive line struggles and the players are right to not be overly concerned. But missed opportunities have become an increasingly worrisome trend for the Wolverines.
In their last one-possession game, at Northwestern in late September, they had two scoreless drives end in Wildcat territory and two more end with field goals inside the 10-yard line.
?That kinda tested our resilience,? Patterson said on Saturday. ?Kinda felt like the Northwestern game a little bit.?
The problem is, it didn?t just feel like the Northwestern game.
It felt like the Penn State game, when they were locked in a close game at halftime, despite dominating the yardage battle, because three of their five drives across the 50 ended without points.
It felt like the Notre Dame loss, when Michigan had seven drives into Irish territory end with one touchdown, one field goal, three turnovers on downs, and two punts.
It even felt like the first half of last weekend?s game in Piscataway, when the Wolverines had a turnover on downs and a punt in Rutgers territory.
?I couldn?t put my finger on it,? Higdon said. ?I think it was just us not executing or being efficient the way we needed to be.?
On Saturday, the offensive struggles came in nearly any situation imaginable ? as long as it was in the red zone. Moody?s first field goal came after Higdon was stuffed on first and second down, setting up a long yardage situation.
Early down inefficiency was the culprit again on Moody?s third and fifth field goals. His fourth and sixth game after Michigan failed to convert short yardage situations. The most frustrating moment of the day preceded his second kick, when Patterson underthrew a wide open Zach Gentry in the end zone.
?Everybody put me in a good position to do it,? Moody said after the game, when asked setting his record. ?The offense did really well, marching down the field. They got me in position.?
That allowed Moody to set a program record in his first career start. But the rest of the Wolverines? offense doesn?t want to be putting Moody to be setting records ? they want to be scoring touchdowns. And next Saturday in Columbus, that desire needs to become reality.