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Could Michigan football's ugly start simply be the result of really weird circumstances?

Wolverines break in new offense while preparing for triple option

Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins (4) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Shea Patterson (2) during the second quarter of an NCAA football game against Middle Tennessee in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There's a lot more room on the Michigan football bandwagon these days.

At the beginning of the season, it was hard to get a seat. Even the standing room only tickets sold out, and there was absolutely no elbow room.

Now it's as barren as Fred's birthday party in "Little Man Tate."

It's quite an exodus for an undefeated team that's still ranked in the top 10, though Michigan is somewhat to blame for once again hyping themselves up all offseason.

READNeed some hope? 7 reasons not to give up on Michigan just yet

Michigan fans have been programmed to expect a letdown over the last decade, but this year it didn't even take a loss for people to jump ship. That's probably because expectations were sky-high due to a new offensive coordinator and a returning senior quarterback.

Shea Patterson #2 of the Michigan Wolverines passes the ball against the Army Black Knights during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

We won't learn anything the next two weeks as Michigan prepares for Wisconsin. But with so much speculation that Michigan isn't as good as we thought, did anyone consider the opposite possibility?

Maybe the first two weeks of this season were just really, really weird.

Consider all the variables that converged on the program at the same time. Michigan completely overhauled its offense from a conservative pro-style to a no-huddle, "speed in space" approach under Josh Gattis.

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Sure, the offense was being worked in all offseason, but it wasn't truly tested until the first game against Middle Tennessee State.

While breaking in a new offense, Michigan was simultaneously preparing for two polar opposite offenses in the first two weeks. MTSU was running four-wide receiver sets and getting the ball quickly out of the quarterback's hands.

Army brought a triple-option attack into Ann Arbor just a week later and only threw four passes. Michigan had been preparing for that one specific game since the spring, all while breaking in a new offense.

Daxton Hill #30 of the Michigan Wolverines carries the ball after making a catch against the Army Black Knights on a fake punt during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

On top of all that, Michigan's offensive game plan against Army appeared to be to avoid letting the Black Knights completely dominate time of possession. Last year, Army held the ball for an insane 44:41 against Oklahoma and almost pulled off an upset.

Michigan countered by running the ball 45 times and did a good job evening the time of possession. The problem is it did a bad job actually gaining yards, protecting the football and avoiding penalties.

The result was an offense that is moving to a more up-tempo style but tried to scale it back against a triple-option team and got in its own way with fumbles and penalties.

When you take that into consideration, it's not surprising that Michigan looked stagnant on offense. In fact, it's more surprising that Michigan got out of that game with a win.

Michigan deserves some skepticism because it didn't live up to its own hype from the offseason. But it's not so cut and dry that Michigan can be written off for struggling against Army.

Wisconsin looks like one of the best teams in the Big Ten this year, so Week 4 will be a tough test. But it should help Michigan to have two normal weeks of preparation heading into conference play, with more familiar opponents on the schedule.


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