By JERAMY STOVER, Sports Editor
As we’ve hit the midway point of the season, the University of Michigan football team has looked as good as they possibly could. They currently have the number one ranked defense and have put up jaw dropping statistics offensively in a few of their games.
Needless to say, the Wolverines’ wins are looking less impressive by the week. Colorado just lost to a mediocre Southern California team. Michigan State just lost its third straight game, making Wisconsin’s 30-6 win over the Spartans look less impressive. And Rutgers has lost two the conference’s two best teams by a combined score of 136-0.
And unfortunately the schedule ahead doesn’t look much tougher. Illinois just lost the battle of the basement of the conference to Purdue. Iowa lost to a division two team this year. And Michigan State is sitting on a 2-3 record. But Michigan can only play the teams that are on their schedule.
As of today, the Wolverines are ranked fourth in the country, but their chances of moving up in the polls will be low until Nov. 26 when they head to Columbus for a what could be a top five matchup with Ohio State.
But even if the opponents aren’t the greatest, that doesn’t mean we can’t take things away from the first half of the season. Here is a breakdown of what we know from both sides of the ball through the first six games.
Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight has done enough this season to keep Michigan winning. One of Speights best stats is his 11-2 touchdown to interception ratio. He has done a great job at limiting mistakes and protecting the football. Speight’s biggest asset so far has been his legs- he has repeatedly scrambled away from oncoming defenders and avoided disaster.
While Speight doesn’t have a ton of talent with his arm, he has shown the ability to put a perfect touch on his deep ball. My only worry is that Speight won’t have what it takes to step up in a big game when he’s needed and come through. Michigan hasn’t really been tested a lot this season and it scares me most with Speight. The Oct. 29 showdown in East Lansing will be the game to keep your eyes on to see how he performs.
The running backs have all had their moments to shine this season. Even the younger guys, such as sophomore Karan Higdon and freshman Chris Evans, have had multiple 100-yard games this season. Evans has burst onto the scene with his speed. Higdon doesn’t have the same speed as Evans but has a bigger frame and is a tougher to bring down. Running the ball consistently has been tough for Michigan in recent years and I’m still worried it’ll struggle against good defenses. But they have added some pieces this year that could prevent that from happening.
The offensive line has looked solid for most of the season. Wisconsin brought a lot of pressure and the Wolverines struggled to contain it, but they kept Speight clean late in the game for him to throw the winning touchdown pass. The offensive line suffered a heartbreaking injury when starting left tackle Grant Newsome got hurt against Wisconsin and is ruled out for the rest of the season.
Michigan has some depth on the offensive line but left tackle isn’t an ordinary position. It has the tough responsibility of protecting the quarterback’s blind side. And while Speight has done a good job of scrambling away from pressure this season, he can’t have to do it too often.
Don Brown is in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Wolverines. “Dr. Blitz”, as he is known, said from his first day at Michigan that his defense would bring a lot of pressure – and he was not lying. The Michigan defense has suffocated teams with the amount of pressure they bring on a drive-by-drive basis.
Michigan currently ranks first in points allowed per game and passing yards allowed per game. Against Rutgers on Saturday Michigan gave up just five passing yards. Senior defensive ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley have feasted on opposing offensive lines. Ryan Glasgow has made NFL scouts pay attention to him with his impressive play and prized freshman Rashan Gary has given us glimpses of why he’s the real deal.
Senior linebackers Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon have filled their role nicely. The linebacking unit was expected to take a step back this season with the loss of all three starters from 2015. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that they have. It also helps Jabrill Peppers has played next to them and takes away much of opposing teams short passing plays.
The defensive backs unit has also done its job nicely so far this season. Jourdan Lewis made an incredible interception against Wisconsin and that made people forget that fellow cornerback Channing Stribling had two interceptions himself that night. Stribling has impressed this season and he’ll continue to need to step up with Jeremy Clark being out for the season with an injury.