Reactions & Analysis: Michigan, Patterson Exploit Indiana Defense
• Earlier in the season, it was right to be critical of Michigan senior QB Shea Patterson. Even as October came to an end, one could suggest the Wolverines would have to beat Notre Dame, Michigan State and (maybe) Ohio State in spite of their quarterback's limitations throwing accurately and down the field - he was completing just 57.0 percent of his attempts through Halloween and had developed confidence throwing deep to a single WR, junior Nico Collins.
In the past three games, and especially the last two, Patterson has been every bit the QB Michigan hoped it was getting when the former five-star recruit transferred from Ole Miss before the 2018 season.
On Saturday, he put up his second straight 300-yard passing game (366 yards) and became the first Maize and Blue signal-caller in school history to throw for four touchdowns or more in back-to-back games according to U-M's official Twitter account, finishing his day with five.
Patterson was accurate again - completing 62.5 percent of his 32 attempts he has now completed better than 60 percent in consecutive games for the first time all year -- while he made great use of U-M's best playmakers, targeting junior wide receivers Collins and Donovan People-Jones 13 times. They caught 11 for 238 yards and four touchdowns, Collins going over 100 for the first time in his career with six grabs for 165 yards and three scores.
This Shea Patterson should give Michigan fans their greatest hope that the Wolverines can go big play for big play and touchdown for touchdown with Ohio State's Justin Fields next week.
We expected a gunslinging, back-yard ballin' Patterson when the 2019 season began. That didn't happen, but it's happening now, and like in 2016 and 2018, the Maize and Blue will go into THE Game with a legitimate chance to win, thanks in large part to the way their quarterback is playing.
• Deep shots, the middle of the field, quick screens ... Michigan's play-calling, under the direction of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, was outstanding for the second straight game. His use of U-M's most talented players in space overwhelmed Indiana's secondary, as it should. As I always say, if you criticize when warranted, you must praise when warranted, and I applaud the offensive coaches for their plan of attack and the players for executing said plan. It was fun to watch.
Coming off back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and Maryland, it looked pretty clear the Wolverines' game plan going forward would rely heavily on its emerging rushing attack and turn its passing game into a compliment. In its most recent victories over Michigan State and Indiana, U-M has pulled a complete 180, treating its running game like an afterthought - Michigan had just 29 carries, 21 going to its top two ball carriers -- and its passing game like the star of the show.
This plan is what I desperately wanted to see when the Wolverines instead emphasized the run first Nov. 2 at Maryland. It is the type of philosophical approach that resembles what the best teams in college football are doing in 2019, and it gives Michigan the best chance to be successful against Ohio State.
Yes, there is plenty more to do to beat the Buckeyes (which we'll discuss later this week), but an offense that can create big plays and take advantage of one-on-one matchups is necessary to win big games, and U-M now has an offense that can do both.
• Plenty of credit should go to Don Brown and the Michigan defense for adapting and finding its focus after early struggles. The Wolverines allowed 153 yards and two touchdowns on Indiana's first three drives. On the Hoosiers' next seven possessions, as U-M scored 32 unanswered points, Michigan surrendered just 63 yards on 24 plays (2.6 yards per play).
The Michigan defense yielded just 94 yards rushing - the sixth time in the last eight games U-M held an opponent to fewer than 100 in a game - with 41 of those yards coming on Indiana's final game-is-over-with drive.
You would like to see a better start from the defense (especially on the road where U-M has repeatedly had bad first quarters) but Brown and Co. adjusted and played lights out football the final 45 minutes. They'll need to play their best 60 minutes to beat OSU next week, but once again, the defense took a step forward.
• If there is some nitpicking to be done, Jim Harbaugh's end-of-the-half management is poor and has been throughout his career. Leading 21-14 with 3:26 left in the half and a chance to rattle the Hoosiers before getting the ball to start the third quarter, Michigan seemed content to sit on its lead, no play-call more head-scratching than a 3rd-and-4 at the IU 44-yard line to senior tailback Tru Wilson.
That play only makes sense if Harbaugh intends to go for it on fourth down. Instead he punted and allowed Indiana to sit on the ball the 44 seconds.
For as smart and experienced as he is, Harbaugh often makes odd decisions, like keeping Patterson in the game to start the fourth quarter with Michigan leading 39-14. There was nothing left to be accomplished - and on the drive, Patterson was 2 for 5 for 41 yards and an interception - it exposed the QB to potential injury and, just as importantly, it didn't get valuable reps for a backup quarterback.
As it would turn out, IU would possess the ball for the final 8:07 and no reserve quarterback ever saw the field. Opportunity wasted for redshirt sophomore Dylan McCaffrey or redshirt freshman Joe Milton.
On a day when Penn State tried to rally at OSU behind its backup signal-caller (Sean Clifford was injured in the third quarter) missing a chance to get McCaffrey some PT before the biggest game of the season is just not OK.
• In his first career start - and the first true freshman to start defensively for Michigan under Harbaugh according to ESPN - safety Daxton Hill led the team in tackles (eight) and had a big interception early in the game with IU driving inside U-M territory in a game tied 7-7.
While Michigan's secondary seemed to have an off day keeping track of its receivers, the front seven for U-M took over, sophomore end Aidan Hutchinson (sack, a pass breakup and seven tackles) and senior rush linebacker Josh Uche (a sack, another tackle for loss and two QB hurries) leading the way.