ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan football team beat an undefeated top 15 opponent last weekend, but it's hard to tell based on the narrative surrounding the program.
There's been some discussion about Michigan's defense holding Iowa to just three points while registering eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss, but the majority of the conversation has surrounded the team's offensive struggles.
It's easy to understand why.
Jim Harbaugh made a splash hire this offseason, stealing Josh Gattis away from Maryland to install a faster, more explosive offense. Throughout the summer, the coaches raved about how much better Michigan would be on offense.
But so far, that simply hasn't come to fruition.
The Wolverines managed to score just 10 points while gaining 267 yards. They couldn't really take advantage of Iowa's four turnovers, and the passing game looked stale and ineffective.
Michigan's offense has only truly clicked once this season, and it came in a 52-0 blowout of Rutgers. The Wolverines gained 476 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
Was the offense fixed after beating up on a weak opponent? Obviously not, which brings us to this week.
Saturday will be Michigan's final game as a heavy favorite this season, as the second half of the schedule features three difficult rivalry games and three dangerous road tests.
Illinois is just what the doctor ordered for Michigan's offense. The Fighting Illini allow more than 420 yards per game this season -- 96th in the nation.
If the Wolverines can't dominate this defense, there's even more reason to sound the alarm. But what if Michigan does put up big numbers? Does it mean anything?
Shea Patterson needs to get back on track, and a date with the No. 114 passing defense seems like the perfect remedy for his struggles. But he completed 17 of 23 passes for 276 yards against Rutgers and ran for three touchdowns, only to see the offense fall apart the following week.
Most fans will say Michigan can't prove anything until Penn State, but there are a few positive signs to keep an eye on against Illinois.
First of all, Michigan needs to move the ball on the ground with more consistency. Even against Rutgers, the offense averaged just 3.4 yards per rush. The running backs were also a non-factor against Iowa.
If Michigan can't move the chains on the ground, the second half of the season will get ugly.
Illinois is allowing 183.20 rushing yards per game and 4.11 yards per run. Michigan won't play another team as inept against the run, so Saturday might be the last chance for Zach Charbonnet, Christian Turner and company to get into a rhythm.
Gattis also needs to do a better job getting the ball to Michigan's best offensive players: the wide receivers.
Against Iowa, Nico Collins only had three catches. Donovan Peoples-Jones was held to four catches, and Tarik Black was held to just one catch.
Those are Michigan's best playmakers. They have to combine for more than eight catches.
Part of that responsibility falls on Patterson, who hasn't been consistently accurate in the passing game. It's impossible to utilize the speed and athleticism of the wide receivers without being able to get them the ball.
Once the ball is in their hands, good things will happen.
It might be impossible for Michigan's offense to earn your trust back against Illinois, but it wouldn't hurt to see some positive adjustments.
The season's nearly halfway over, so it's starting to feel like now or never.
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