Following an offseason defined by high hopes, the Michigan football team has encountered weekly adversity in the early stages of this season.
For that, it has nobody to blame but itself. Few expected the 20th-ranked Wolverines (2-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) to showcase a stagnant second-half against Middle Tennessee State, an underwhelming double-overtime scare against Army and a three-possession blowout loss in Madison.
Perhaps the first offensive play of the season was a sign of things to come. When quarterback Shea Patterson lost a fumble after scrambling up the middle, the Blue Raiders recovered and capitalized on the short field to score a touchdown. Patterson endured a similar fate against the Black Knights, fumbling during an opening-drive sack — prematurely capping a 33-yard series.
Against Wisconsin, junior Ben Mason was stripped on his first carry of the season after rushing for seven touchdowns in 2018. Mason’s miscue came on the heels of a 68-yard reception from sophomore Ronnie Bell, halting any momentum and letting a chance to tie the game immediately slip away.
“The thing for us is responding (to) adversity early on,” first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said on Wednesday. “You look at it, we’ve had three opening drives that have all ended in fumbles. We’ve got to learn how to respond in those situations when we face adversity. … I don’t think we’re in a position now to look at statistics and count numbers — we’re in a position right now where we look at offensively how can we improve those negative situations.”
Michigan has committed 10 turnovers through three games thus far, an alarmingly high number for the preseason Big Ten favorite. With a senior quarterback, veteran offensive line and talented receiving corps, ball security was written off as a theoretical given. But instead, it’s one of the chief reasons behind the Wolverines’ 13-spot tumble in the national poll over the first month of the season.
Perhaps even more damaging is the impact such turnovers have on the team’s morale. On Saturday, senior tight end Nick Eubanks mentioned seeing his teammates hanging their hands after the Badgers turned Mason’s fumble into a second touchdown.
When the game ended, the taste in U-M’s mouth was even more bitter.
“I felt the pain for the kids,” Gattis said. “When you’re able to go into that locker room and look in their eyes and see what they’re going through and how they feel, it hurts. It’s one of those feelings you never want to experience again and one that hopefully takes away from it and shows everyone the importance of every little detail we stress and emphasize.”
At this point, Michigan’s response to such mistakes is equally important to preventing them in the first place.
“The biggest thing for us is being able to overcome adversity, play with confidence and continue to play with confidence throughout the game,” Gattis said. “ … And that’s something we’re gonna keep emphasizing and keep stressing.”