Opponent Insider: Michigan's Top Offensive Players
No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1) heads to Ann Arbor this weekend to take on the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (5-2), and the matchup of the Irish offense against the Wolverine defense will be one to watch.
Michigan’s overall talent on offense is far superior to its statistics and success this season. Notre Dame will need to play an aggressive and disciplined game to ensure that Michigan doesn’t have its breakout game on offense.
The Wolverines have weapons on the perimeter and a veteran offensive line. Let’s take a look at Michigan’s top offensive players.
#4 Nico Collins, Wide Receiver
2019 Stats: 19 catches, 358 yards, 18.8 YPC, 2 TD’s
Collins is the matchup that concerns me the most in this game. At 6-4 and 228 pounds, Collins has the size, length and ball skills to give the Notre Dame cornerbacks problems. He isn't a burner, but he's fast enough to stretch the field thanks to that size. We saw that a season ago when he kicked off the second half with a 52-yard catch against Irish All-American Julian Love.
The nature of the Michigan pass game has limited his overall production this season, but Collins has remains a legitimate home run threat, which is evidenced by his 18.8 yards per reception. Just 124 of his 358 yards have come after the catch, which is more statistical evidence of his downfield ability.
Seventeen of his 19 catches have gone for first downs and he has just one drop on the season. Notre Dame must be prepared to keep Collins from taking over this game.
#50 Michael Onwenu, Right Guard
Onwenu has often struggled with conditioning, but this season he looks like a completely different player physically and on film. I do not see the midseason All-American that Pro Football Focus does, but Onwenu has been Michigan’s best blocker on film. He can be a bit heavy footed at times, but when his technique is correct he shows impressive agility for a big man.
The 6-3, 350-pound guard is throwing his weight around more effectively this season, and he’s been Michigan’s best run blocker. He comes off the ball quickly, and when he steps with power he is a force. Onwenu’s experience has also paid off for him this season, and you can see that by how effectively he handles the opposition line games and pressures. Onwenu and the Michigan offensive line did an excellent job picking up all the Penn State pressures this past weekend.
Onwenu can have issues at times with quickness in the pass game, and he has allowed seven pressures this season.
#8 Ronnie Bell, Wide Receiver
2019 Stats: 25 catches, 443 yards, 17.7 YPC, 0 TD’s
Don’t let the drop against Penn State fool you into thinking Bell isn’t a really good football player, because he is. The former basketball player can do a little bit of everything for the Michigan offense. He’s fast enough to stretch the field, he can work the middle of the field and he’s capable of turning short throws into big gains.
Bell is Michigan’s most effective after the catch player, and Notre Dame must be able to bring him down in space. Bell has 292 yards after the catch this season, which is 65.9 percent of his total yards. Notre Dame has had issues at times this season giving up yards after the catch, which makes this matchup concerning.
Bell is still raw and clearly still somewhat new to the game. He has five drops on the season, which is a high number for a player that has been targeted 45 times. But the drops aside, he’s a dangerous player that must be accounted for every snap. Bell’s ability to wreck the game with his big plays.
#51 Cesar Ruiz, Center
When I started breaking down Michigan film I expected senior left guard Ben Bredeson to be the most impressive player based on last season and the preseason hype, but Onwenu and junior center Cesar Ruiz are the players that stood out the most.
Ruiz was the consensus No. 1 center in the country in the 2017 class and was ranked No. 28 nationally by ESPN, No. 41 by Rivals and No. 55 by 247Sports. He started five games at guard as a freshman and all 13 games at center in 2018, but his youth caused him to struggle, and overall he wasn’t an effective blocker.
Now a junior with over 20 career starts, Ruiz is starting to show off the tools and production that made him one of the nation’s top recruits. His conditioning has improved, which allows his foot quickness to stand out. He gets good movement in the run game, handles pressure effectively and outside of the Wisconsin game his pass protection has been good.
#2 Shea Patterson, Quarterback
2019 Stats: 1,522 passing yards, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s / 89 rush yards, 5 TD’s
Patterson was over-hyped in a major way coming out of high school, and that hype continued when he transferred to Michigan. He was never a five-star player, but things have now flipped and Patterson gets far too much of the blame for Michigan’s struggles offensively. The fact is when Patterson is allowed to play with some freedom and he’s on his game this offense is difficult to handle.
The senior quarterback freelances quite a bit, which partly explains his inconsistency. He’ll change arm angles, throw off his back foot and will throw on the move. When he has his game working these become his greatest assets, but when he gets pressured they can become hindrances. Against Penn State, however, we saw Patterson’s game at its best, especially in the second half.
For whatever reason Michigan does not use Patterson to run as much as they should. When he’s allowed to move around and use his legs as a weapon he is very dangerous. I have a feeling Michigan’s coaches will see the issues Notre Dame has had with mobile quarterbacks and design more opportunities for Patterson to move around.