When No. 18 Michigan heads to No. 21 Minnesota to open the 2020 season on Saturday, the Wolverines will be entering a new era in many respects.
Once U-M takes the field on offense, a new starting quarterback, presumably Joe Milton, will usher in the next phase of Michigan football. Milton, who has been lauded for his wildly strong arm and commitment to the playbook over the offseason, will be relied upon to lead the Wolverines to new heights, COVID concerns or not.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has often been critiqued for his inability to win big games, especially those that are on the road. This has kept Harbaugh's Michigan squads from reaching the Big Ten title game and the College Football playoffs, so it is arguably the most important position heading into the season. With that as the current situation, Milton will need to play well from the jump in 2020, and that is even more true with a shortened schedule.
To help ease Milton into his first start as U-M's signal caller, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis would be wise to rely on a running back group that's received their fair share of praise in recent weeks as well. With Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins each a year older, both 600+ yard rushers from 2019 should be focal points of the offense right away. Combine their ability on the ground with Chris Evans in his comeback season and Michigan has the talent on the roster to win games on the ground.
Milton will still need to make big throws no matter what, but it should be the rushing offense's job to give the first-time starter favorable situations. If U-M can consistently pick up chunks of yardage on the ground on first down, it will put Milton ahead of schedule and in a position to play with less pressure.
Not only is it good practice to put the quarterback in a position to succeed, that is even more true with a brand new starter whose true introduction to the Big Ten will be a road game against a Top 25 opponent in prime time. On paper, that is a difficult recipe for a player with Milton's experience to handle, but a rushing attack that proves formidable early on could force Minnesota's hand and make the Gophers send extra players into the box.
If that ends up being the case, Milton will see several second and short, third and short situations with seven or maybe eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. That is the perfect recipe to run a play action fake and send one of Michigan's speedy young receivers, such as Giles Jackson or Mike Sainristil, deep down the field. Milton very notably has a cannon for an arm, so what better opportunity to take a shot downfield than in that situation?
To set the stage even further, the weather in Minneapolis is expected to be less than favorable. Right now, the Weather.gov forecast predicts a mostly cloudy day in Minnesota with a slight chance of snow at night. Under those conditions, it would make even more sense for Gattis and the coaching staff to implement a run-heavy attack, one that aims to take the pressure off of Milton and that can take advantage of the Gophers' relatively young linebacking crew.
What do you think the play calling ratio should be like on Saturday? How many deep passes should Michigan dial up for Milton? Let us know!