Michigan mailbag: Can Wolverines hang on (to the football) vs. Badgers?

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
View Comments

Michigan has played two games, won two games and yet, it seems the sky is falling. That’s a bit extreme, but there are reasons to be scratching your head and wondering, ‘Hey! Where’s that speed in space they were talking about?’”

Yeah, so where is it?

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson fumbled twice in the second quarter against Army.

Instead of a big preamble here, there were lots of Michigan football questions, so let’s get to them.

Question. What do you see as the most critical thing to improve on offense going into Madison next Saturday? Most critical on defense? — @clint_derringer

Answer. Everyone has to agree with this: cleaning up the fumbles. How is an offense supposed to get in a rhythm if it loses the ball? How can it get anything going? Three first-half fumbles against Army? Had they put them in a box with a nice bow, those wouldn’t have been nicer gifts for an offense that wants to devour the clock. Five in two games is a number tough to grasp, especially for a team that had three all last year. The most critical thing on defense is to see if they can figure out a way to get a 12th player on the field while facing running back Jonathan Taylor. Just a joke, but the point is, Michigan is going to face an offense that can do a lot of things and a back (Taylor) who is not only a beast running the ball, but has added pass-catching to his resume. Army required every ounce of the Michigan defense’s attention, but so will Taylor. How big can those interior linemen play for the Wolverines? That will be key.

Q. With Runyan back (I’m assuming) for Wisconsin will the OL pass protection issues we saw in the 1st 2 games work themselves out or is there something deeper with the OL issues? — @RajLakra

A. Raj, you nailed it because it has seemed to me there have been issues with this line — although we’ve heard nothing but positives. Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield as first-time starting tackles have played admirably, but Jon Runyan was first-team All-American, and the line is significantly improved with him at left tackle. It will be interesting to see how right tackle plays out now with Hayes and Mayfield. Before Andrew Stueber was hurt and was competing with Mayfield, line coach Ed Warinner said they would split time there. It’s possible that might be the situation going forward with Hayes and Mayfield.

The bye week should help in the recovery efforts of Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Q. Are you hearing anything about the timing of Tru Wilson’s return? — @GailVanBrimer

Q. Should we be healthy and ready to go vs. Wisconsin. — @djmike361

Q. What’s up with DPJ? — @reedster_65

A. Gail, Mike and Terrance, there couldn’t have been a better-timed weekend to have off for the Wolverines. Definitely expect to see those injured players return at Madison, and for sure, they’ve been missed. Michigan needs all of them, but it seemed Wilson’s pass-protection could have come in handy last week. Was told before the first game that Runyan could play if needed, but also was told that head coach Jim Harbaugh wants to be very, very careful bringing guys back.

Q. How is Tru coming along? When things aren’t going well who do you think coach Harbaugh goes to for reassurance/advice? Dad? Brother? Wife? Gattis? All the above? Silly question just had to ask  — @6doctorb

A. No silly questions. Really believe he leans on his father, Jack, a lot. He’s a good sounding board for him, trusted and knowledgeable.

Q. If Shea was having issues mentally, not physically, why does he continue to play? The turnovers early got him rattled. This team needs someone more calm, cool. — @Clyde11286

A. Clyde, who said he was having issues “mentally?" Staying in the moment and remaining even-keeled seems to be a strength of Patterson’s, in my opinion. I asked Ben Bredeson after the Army game if Patterson ever needed an arm around his shoulder to settle him down — Bredeson had mentioned a couple guys do — and he laughed and basically said, ‘Are you kidding? He doesn’t get rattled.’ Does he press at times? Sure. All of them do. It’s natural. But he’s pretty calm and cool from my perspective.

Q. As a fan of the team ,when things don’t go as planned, should I criticize or support the team? It seems to me most like to criticize. I chose to support them. Am I bad fan? — @scottwitmer111

A. Scott, you know the answer to this. It is OK to criticize when warranted. You’re allowed to voice that, but to support a team — using your word — is never a bad approach, just as long as it's not blind.

Q. This is a simple question: What the hell is up with Michigan “fans”? Do they want to win the first 2 games twice or what? 2-0, as good as it can be. Offense is a work in progress, perfect week for a bye. — @gobluespokane

A. This is a very reasonable question and maybe you’re too reasonable — ha! It goes back to the preseason hype and over-promising, perhaps. All they’ve talked about is how the offense can score every time it has the ball and the play-makers and the speed, and seeing that on a consistent basis has been lacking. But you’re right if you’re suggesting patience. It is a work in progress, and Michigan has won its first two games, but no one expected it to look this uneven and at times, sloppy.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has said he will be calling all of the plays in the Wolverines offense, but head coach Jim Harbaugh likely has input.

Q.  Did Harbaugh or Gattis call the running plays at the end of regulation last week? — @steve6884

Q. Has Coach really given up the play calling? — @coachware

Q.  I know Gattis says he has control of the offense, but I find it hard to believe Harbaugh would give up that control to his first year OC. I have eyes and can see what they put on the field. What is your honest opinion on who is calling the shots on offense? — @bryanmcfaul

Q. Why can we not put together a cohesive game plan? — @JerryJangles

A.  So all these were very similar. I’ve had my doubts since the beginning that Harbaugh would give up all the play-calling to Josh Gattis. I asked Joel Klatt of Fox Sports about that at Big Ten media days, and he laughed and said he asked a bunch of coaches who had worked with Harbaugh and they all just smiled and didn't say a word. And then before the opener during an ESPN interview, Harbaugh pushed the door open a crack and said if he wants to suggest a call, he will. All of that said, and also considering the fact that early during last week’s game I said to my colleague Rod Beard that it felt like Harbaugh was calling the game, I’m still not sure. Here’s the thing: The offensive staff works all week on the game plan. Harbaugh is part of that show, and I can’t imagine he just sits back. Now in the MTSU game, it felt like Gattis was making the calls. I need a few more games to get a feel for this, but I think Gattis will make the calls, and Harbaugh is free to interject, and has and will.

Q. Does Michigan have a realistic chance to win the Big Ten? — @SCSportsTruth

Q.  With the very tough schedule, what's your W-L prediction for the year?— @Wolverine4441

A.  Coming into the season, not having seen a practice and having only listened to what the players and coaches said, it’s always difficult to get a feel for a team. Realistic chance? Sure. Likely? Not so sure. Lots of improvement needed, but then again, we haven’t seen them play a Big Ten game yet. Wisconsin will offer an opportunity to really see what this team is made of and will give a better indication of how things will unfold. My preseason pick was 10-2. I’m thinking now three or four losses are very possible, but want to see how they play next week.

Q.  Has Harbaugh, the other coaches or other Michigan staff discussed implementing a social media policy or provide resources with student athletes on how to deal with the negativity, etc? — @bakingmom14

A.  Michele, not sure if there’s any sort of policy. They all seem fairly responsible with their social media accounts and many of them suspend posting during the season, although it seems certain they’re reading. I often think about Zach Gentry before the Peach Bowl telling us he had to take down his accounts after the Ohio State game because of the nastiness. That’s just no good for anyone.

Q.  Will men’s tennis ever make a comeback in the US? Is “Speed in Space” a real thing for the Michigan offense? — @bshelton77

A.  Brian, it’s hard to imagine American men’s tennis will reach that peak it did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Saw John McEnroe on a late-night show the other night talking about this very issue — like he said, there was a “coolness” to being a tennis player back then and there were great personalities. Now, not so much and it’s just too expensive for kids to devote themselves. The women’s game is healthy, though, so there’s that. Speed in space is a real thing and I have to believe it’s out there. Waiting to see what Donovan Peoples-Jones adds to the mix. Get Patterson better protection and that will improve his decision-making and then we’ll see if it’s real.

Q.  Can Michigan’s offense take a jump the same way Penn State’s did in 2016, a team Gattis coached on? Also what does your mom think of Bob Wojnowski? — @DaveGarbacik

A.  That’s an interesting question, because the Nittany Lions did make a significant jump after that almost 40-point loss to Michigan. The pieces were there. More polish in the backfield, but you’re seeing the similarities and now I do, too. Mom likes Wojo. Always has. Mom isn’t always smart.

Q.  1-4 their last 5 trips to Madison. What can the Wolverines do to overcome this trend? — @BuckMartini

A.  Silly me thinks it’s an advantage for Michigan it doesn’t have to play a night game at Wisconsin. In the scheme of things, that probably doesn’t matter. Overcoming the trend means overcoming Jonathan Taylor. Can’t stop him, but the Wolverines have to neutralize him. And then, see above, get this speed-in-space promise fulfilled.

Q.  Will Daxton Hill be seeing a bigger role as the season progresses? Will it be on offense, defense or special teams. And for your mom: Which Ohio school will be the next team to beat Ohio State in football? — @rwschumacher

A. Richard, during a conversation with a coach I had weeks before the season started, I suggested the Wisconsin game would be the time Hill would see more playing time on defense. He agreed. His reasoning? Going through the bridge program takes these freshmen away from practice time. That went for Hill, too. In the coach’s mind, it would take a few weeks of the season before he’d really be ready to go, and agreed that the Big Ten opener seemed like a reasonable time frame.

Q.  How important is Jordan Glasgow to this team? He is playing like the Wolfman. — @skwogler

A.  John, he has been impressive making big plays when needed. Evidence was last week against Army in the goal-line situation and the week before those two sacks, particularly the second that defined second effort.

Q.  If Shea was injured to the point he couldn’t run the full offense, why wasn’t Dylan inserted into the game? — @bmcleod013

Q. I second this question. And if the answer is Dylan isn’t ready to take on the full offense, then why is that? — @Scost06

A.  This crossed my mind, as well, but Gattis said Patterson was healthy last week. It’s doubtful he was 100 percent coming off the oblique injury – remember, that helps you twist and pivot – but there’s no doubt in my mind he has the better handle of the offense. Don’t know why McCaffrey might not be ready to take over the full offense. I keep going back to what Urban Meyer said on Fox several weeks ago – you can overhaul an offense, move to the spread and think it’s going to work efficiently from the get go. Yes, other teams have been able to do that, and yes, they’ve had a spring and camp, but playing at game speed is a different animal.

Q.  What’s your favorite food during a football game? (Or do you not eat?) And what is your favorite Kenny Chesney song? — @MarkProff

A. Try not to eat in there. Took a sandwich and almonds last week. Boring. I like so many of Kenny’s songs, but seem to play “Setting the World on Fire” a lot. I also love “You Had Me From Hello."

Q. Did you or your mom cure the terrible disease in Ann Arbor, fumbleitis? — @Jrighht07

A. Jeff, you sound like my mother — they were dropping the ball all over the place!

Q.  Can I spend a Saturday with your mom while we watch the MSU/UM game together? And I live tweet everything she says? — @StephanieBrosky

A. You two would be a dangerous combo. I’ll consider this.

Q.  Ahhhhh, yeah (raises hand) I got a question. When is Bob going to retire, he looks tired. — @MgoBlu06

A. Let’s hope soon.

Q.  What is Wojo's favorite snack during the game? — @blacky19870

A. Nick, the better question is: What isn’t Wojo’s favorite snack?

Q. How many of Yost’s championships did Wojo cover? — @ndchris12

A. All of them.

Q. Favorite Hallmark Channel movie? — @cseeman

Q. Favorite Hallmark movie? — @SaraAltimimy

A. You two are on the verge of being BLOCKED!


Twitter: @chengelis

View Comments