Michigan takeaways: O-line woes, Zach Charbonnet sees heavy workload
Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 24-21 double-overtime victory over Army on Saturday.
Offensive line misses Runyan
Left tackle Jon Runyan, first-team All-Big Ten last season, has missed the first two games while recovering from an injury suffered late in camp.
This is not a knock on young Ryan Hayes, who backs up both tackle spots and has started the first two games for Runyan, but there’s a reason Runyan earned those accolades last season. And don’t forget that Jalen Mayfield is making his first starts at right tackle.
Yes, freshman back Zach Charbonnet ran hard, but all that work — he had 33 of the 37 carries by Michigan’s backs — yielded 100 yards rushing, and that’s on the offensive line. He averaged three yards a carry and that’s just not going to cut it.
The offensive line has shown improvement since Ed Warinner arrived as position coach before last season and in the preseason spoke of being the strength of this offense. Well, there’s a lot to clean up before it’s handed a trophy. The line didn’t control this game as one might have expected and the lack of production in the run game shows that. Michigan also was heavily penalized, especially in the first half against Army, and senior Ben Bredeson was called twice and second-year starting center Cesar Ruiz called once for false start, while Hayes was called for holding.
Defense wasn’t the problem
Michigan’s defense wasn’t perfect by any means, but came up with two big plays, including a game-winning fumble at the end of the game in the second overtime that allowed the Wolverines to survive the near-upset.
Lavert Hill had a critical goal-line interception, and safety Josh Metellus’ touchdown off the fumble should have stood. Michigan’s three first-half turnovers also put pressure on its defense.
But, looking at the numbers, Army was ranked second nationally averaging 312.5 rushing yards and had 200 yards against Michigan. The Black Knights ran 66 plays for 243 yards or a 3.68 per-play average. Army’s total yards were the lowest since facing Navy in 2017 and the lowest per-play total since Air Force in 2015.
Army had a couple of big plays, a 34-yard pass and a 31-yard run, so that needs to be cleaned up, especially since the Wolverines will face running back Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin in less than two weeks. Taylor has had eight touchdowns the first two games.
Michigan failed to convert two fourth-quarter fourth-down attempts, and coach Jim Harbaugh blamed “analytics." With the game tied, 14-14, the Wolverines were fourth and two at the Army 19 and opted to run freshman back Zach Charbonnet rather than go for the field goal. Charbonnet lost four yards. On the second fourth-down attempt the next series, Michigan needed two yards, but Charbonnet managed one.
“Our analytics had it that the best thing to do if we got in that situation fourth and three from that distance was to go for it and we didn’t convert, same with the second one,” Harbaugh said. “That was a fourth and two and analytics told us to go for it and we didn’t make it again.”
Seems “analytics” should be a suggestion, something to consider while “feel” for the game might outweigh anything else, really. The offensive line wasn’t getting great push and points clearly had been tough to earn, so on that first attempt, it wasn’t so much after-the-fact questioning but outright questioning why not get the points?
No logic to scheduling service academies
No offense to the service academy football teams, but who wants to play them and why would anyone want to play them?
No doubt, it was cool seeing Army in Michigan Stadium and they brought so many fans. The flyover was an incredible tribute among so many others, particularly after the game when the Michigan team joined Army with its fans in the corner of the end zone as chants of “U-S-A” showered them. But playing any of the service academy teams makes no sense. Your defense has to prepare for an offense it won’t see the rest of the year, and you’ve got a defensive coordinator who says it’s been on his mind since the spring.
This makes zero sense, especially when you’re controlling who you schedule in the non-conference. Michigan is off on Saturday before opening Big Ten play at Wisconsin, and if the idea is to win the Big Ten — not an “if”, it is — scheduling Army is simply not the way to do it.
Where are all the backs?
Michigan coaches kept saying they felt good about all five running backs, so where are they?
Zach Charbonnet has shown he’s the best back of the group and the coaches clearly trust him, just look at the workload he got against Army with 33 carries. Christian Turner is an effective runner as well. He blew a pass protection that led to quarterback Shea Patterson getting stripped of the ball, and Ben VanSumeren fumbled on his first carry and didn’t get another.
Charbonnet had 33 carries and Turner and VanSumeren combined for four. Understandably you ride the running back who is hot, but while Charbonnet ran hard, he averaged three yards a carry and the Wolverines might have been better served with a change-up back since Patterson wasn’t bent on running in this game.