More options spice up Michigan's offense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It wasn’t always pretty. At times it was head-scratching.

But in the aftermath of Game 1 with a new offense, the takeaway is that there was a lot to take away from the Wolverines’ 40-21 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the season opener. This was the debut of coordinator Josh Gattis’ speed-in-space offense, and the Wolverines showed plenty of it.

More doesn’t always mean better — no one quite understands why it was a good thing to have two quarterbacks on the field — but the more in this sense suggests the Wolverines have a lot going on in this offense. More, in this case, could actually mean better with more interesting and explosive options than last season. They ran 78 plays against MTSU, after averaging 68.9 last year, so there’s one thing to file that under the “more” category.

Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey looks for room to run after catching a screen pass in the first quarter.

“It was a good amount of offense that got called tonight,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I was pleased with the way it was executed for the most part. We were pretty good in our alignments. Some of them got a little sloppy, not lining up at the right spot. We had a couple of pre-snap penalties.”

Having a first-game opponent like Middle Tennessee State, which got two of its three scores off turnovers, wasn’t a bad place to start for Gattis, as he unloaded some from his bag of tricks. It’s one thing to work against your defense every day in camp and practice, and quite another to put plays on a real stage against a real opponent to see what works and how players react on in a game setting.

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As always, there were some positives and some not-so-positives. But as far as Harbaugh was concerned, there was much more to rally behind and feel good about.

“I’m happy for the win, but a lot to coach off, as well,” Harbaugh said.

Quarterback Shea Patterson was 17-of-29 for 203 yards and three touchdowns and nine different players caught passes — including quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, but his 1-yard reception was largely forgettable in the big picture and it seems playing both quarterbacks should also be forgotten going forward.

Patterson stumbled out of the box with a fumble on the first play, and after the game, despite some solid stats, he couldn’t get his mind off the turnover.

“I’ve got to take care of the football,” he said multiple times during his postgame remarks. The miscue gave MTSU a short field and its first touchdown of the game.

In the first half, receiver Tarik Black got his first significant playing time since early 2017 with four catches for 80 yards. Nico Collins had three for 49. Tight ends Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks each had two catches. What was missing was Donovan Peoples-Jones. The word during camp was that he had been excelling in this offense, but Peoples-Jones was on the sideline Saturday night wearing a boot on his right foot. Harbaugh seemed to suggest Peoples-Jones could be back Saturday for the Army game.

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Highlights on offense also included the running backs, particularly freshman Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner. Charbonnet never looked like the moment was too big for him and rushed for 90 yards on eight carries. Turner had 49 on 11.

“They ran the ball like hell,” Patterson said.

Michigan finished with 453 yards of offense, including 220 passing. The Wolverines averaged 5.8 yards a play.

Defensively, there was this little issue of replacing four key starters, including the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, Devin Bush. There were highlights including Ambry Thomas’ interception, a fumble forced by Aidan Hutchinson and recovered by Thomas and two big sacks from Jordan Glasgow. Graduate transfer end Mike Danna was solid with three tackles and a quarterback hurry, and Khaleke Hudson led the team with eight tackles and a quarterback hurry.

The Blue Raiders had 155 yards in the first half and were 3-of-8 on third down, and got their two touchdowns off turnovers — they were at the Michigan 42-yard line to start the first drive and the UM 33 for the second. Michigan held them to 146 yards in the second half, but MTSU converted only 1-of-7 third-down attempts.

Twitter: @chengelis