ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan football program has been a punching bag around the country this week despite starting the season with wins over Middle Tennessee State and Army.
Michigan needed double overtime to survive an upset bid from Army, thus dropping three spots to No. 10 in both major polls.
The offense hasn't lived up to the offseason hype, but Michigan might be closer to clicking than people think.
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has the athletes to generate big plays, even though that hasn't come to fruition early in the season. Once Donovan Peoples-Jones returns, Michigan will have a lethal group of weapons in Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell.
The problem so far has been getting those playmakers the ball in positions to do big damage. Other than a few third-down connections with Bell in the Army game, Shea Patterson hasn't been able to execute many chunk plays.
But the opportunities have been there.
Patterson missed a wide open Bell in the first quarter against Army. It should have been an easy 58-yard touchdown pass, but instead, it fell incomplete.
He also missed Collins open in the back of the end zone on the first play of double overtime. Two plays later, his third straight incompletion ended the possession.
Those are the types of throws that can turn an ugly offensive performance into a blowout. If Michigan wants to utilize its speed in space, Patterson has to get the ball to his speedy players when they have space.
Michigan got plenty of production from the ground game. True freshman Zach Charbonnet converted on a number of short-yardage situations and finished with 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The Wolverines got stuffed on two late fourth down attempts because the offense was stale and predictable. Patterson missed a couple of reads when he should have kept the ball. Whether that's due to injury or Patterson simply misreading the play, it has to get fixed if Michigan wants to use him as a weapon in the running game.
He also has to stop fumbling the football, but that figures to be an easier fix than the accuracy and zone read issues. He's already fumbled four times this season, losing three of them. The entire team only lost three fumbles in 13 games a year ago.
Patterson demonstrated his accuracy last season. He also took care of the football. If he can do both of those things in this new offense, Michigan should be in business.
The starting defense has only allowed points off of turnovers or in overtime this season. That side of the ball figures to be strong once again under Don Brown.
Charbonnet looks like a possible star at running back, even as a true freshman.
Patterson is the last piece of the puzzle. If he can get right during the bye week, Michigan will be a dangerous team in the Big Ten. If not, Ohio State will likely cruise to another conference title.
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