U-M offense to face telling test against Badgers’ top-ranked defense

Football

An offense typically isn’t perceived as “struggling” after posting 64 points and 793 yards of total offense in its first two games, but expectations were even higher for the Michigan football team’s new Pro Spread offense.

The perception of an offense that hasn’t clicked yet isn’t sprung from results. Rather, it’s a reflection of a system that still feels as though it hasn’t reached its full potential, at least to the naked eye. Lost fumbles have prematurely terminated would-be scoring drives and unnecessary penalties have stopped momentum in its tracks, leaving quite a bit to be desired.

The 11th-ranked Wolverines enjoyed the luxury of a bye week following their double-overtime scare against Army, but a daunting road matchup against No. 13 Wisconsin will prove to be a telling test to begin the Big Ten slate.

After losing five fumbles in the first two weeks, head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis both made a point to emphasize ball security. Such an adjustment could be a dealbreaker when Michigan travels to Madison, where the nation’s top defense awaits.

The Badgers haven’t allowed a point through two games, though their 49-0 and 61-0 blowouts have come against South Florida and Central Michigan. Even so, Wisconsin held them to a mere 215 combined yards — a mark the Wolverines eclipsed in the first half against Middle Tennessee State. While Michigan remains focused on improving the execution of “explosive plays,” the Badgers have surrendered an average of just 2.13 yards per snap so far this year.

For the Wolverines, the big-play designs are there. Quarterback Shea Patterson threw a trio of passing touchdowns from at least 25 yards out in the season opener, each to a different receiver on a vertical route. That number was, quite literally, inches away from becoming four or even five, but a pair of end zone attempts fell incomplete after hitting sophomore slot receiver Ronnie Bell in the hands.

A week later, Patterson and Bell found themselves unable to connect once again. Bell raced down the sideline with a multi-step advantage over his defender, but Patterson slightly overthrew the ball. A diving Bell still found a way to get two hands on the ball, though he was ultimately unable to corral it.

Despite missing opportunities, the offense has flashed no shortage of potential. The players’ support for Gattis’ up-tempo, RPO-based system is anything but unwarranted, as the unit has been on the cusp of big plays in both games so far. At this point, it boils down to execution.

“I wouldn’t say it lost any confidence at all,” senior left guard Ben Bredeson said. “I think the great thing that these games showed is those things that we needed to work on. So far, through the bye, rolling into game week here, we’ve been really working on some of those smaller details that we need to correct.”

Tight end Nick Eubanks echoed a similar sentiment, noting that the offense is “real close” to clicking.

When Michigan takes the field on Saturday, a breakthrough game for the offense might be exactly what the Wolverines need to earn their first victory in Madison since 2001.

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