Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski and beat writer Angelique Chengelis break down Michigan's season opener. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 40-21 victory over Middle Tennessee on Saturday night.
Looks like Tarik is back
Remember the start of the 2017 season when freshman Tarik Black caught two passes for 83 yards and a touchdown against Florida? The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver gave the Wolverines a spark and through the next two games looked like the real deal. But against Air Force, when he caught five passes for 55 yards, he suffered a broken left foot that would sideline him for the year. And last season, a week before the season opener at Notre Dame, he broke his other foot and, like the previous injury, required surgery. He played sparingly late last year and finished with four catches for 35 yards in three games. He made a splash Saturday night, though, in Michigan’s season opener against Middle Tennessee State, leading all receivers with four catches for 80 yards. He did leave the game before halftime to deal with dehydration. Black scored the team’s first touchdown, a 36-yarder from Shea Patterson, but he showed his big-play potential in their next touchdown drive, catching passes of 22 and 12 yards on back-to-back plays. This set up Nico Collins’ 28-yard touchdown reception. “Those plays are going to happen when you have guys out there that can make plays,” Patterson said after the game.
Running back duo
Michigan has five running backs, and they all played in the season opener, but freshman starter Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner appear to be the go-to backs. Charbonnet, the four-star recruit from California, looked poised from the moment he started the game and finished with 90 yards on eight carries. That total included a 41-yard run in the fourth quarter. “I thought he played really well in protection, seeing the holes, making the cuts, protecting the ball,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He looked like a really experienced back out there to me.” Turner, projected toward the end of last season as a player who can be in a major role this season, had 49 yards on 11 carries. Harbaugh was particularly pleased with a couple of Turner’s runs, including one 10-yard gain when he managed to stay in bounds and got the first down. “He refused to go down,” Harbaugh said. Tru Wilson, the No. 1 back heading into camp and the most experienced returning playing at the position, had two carries for eight yards, Ben VanSumeren had seven yards on four carries and scored the Wolverines’ final touchdown, a one-yard run, and Hassan Haskins had two carries for a yard.
Thomas healthy and tough
In the middle of last month, during an update of preseason camp, Harbaugh revealed cornerback Ambry Thomas was dealing with colitis, had lost a lot of weight (that he managed to regain), and was tasked with meeting a number of “milestones” laid out by team doctors. It didn’t bode well. Then, on Aug. 22, Thomas said on Twitter he was back to practice. Last Monday, he was cleared and full-go to get up to speed in practice. He started the season opener and finished with an interception, fumble recovery and two tackles. Thomas said he lacked confidence heading into the game in large part because he didn’t get much practice, but the pick gave him a boost.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said several times he needs to take better care of the football after fumbling twice in the season opener. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Two better than one?
Harbaugh kept saying it – he intended to play both Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey, and also said there would be times they’d both be on the field. He wasn’t fibbing. Patterson, the returning starter, was 17-of-29 for 203 yards and three touchdowns, but in the second half, there was some mixing of quarterbacks that just didn’t quite make sense. Why they need to be on the field at the same time seems a mystery, and the experiment was not successful. In the first quarter when McCaffrey came in after the second play of the drive as a receiver, Michigan was slapped with a five-yard penalty for illegal substitution. The next play, the misfiring continued as Patterson and McCaffrey connected for a one-yard reception. The use of the two in the second half was confusing at times and clearly an aspect of the offense that needs some serious work.
Key players missing
It was certainly a surprise to see receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on the sideline with a boot on his right leg. This offense seems suited to his talent and there was much anticipation to seeing how Peoples-Jones meshes with it. His debut might come on Saturday against Army. He was also missed in the return game – that was particularly notable when Lavert Hill fumbled a punt that set up MTSU’s second score. The opener might not have exposed the loss of left tackle Jon Runyan, who went through pre-game warmups but didn’t play, and Ryan Hayes did a nice job filling in, but not having an All-Big Ten first teamer is significant. Getting Peoples-Jones and Runyan back are vital for this offense.