The pat answer of course is “football experience”. These Wolverines are lacking in football experience offensively, defensively, and on special teams. Among other things, M has to replace at least three of the starters on the offensive line that often graded out as pedestrian.
MAIZE v BLUE FINAL: Maize 31, Blue 29. test
With only four offensive starters returning this spring, and only one returnee on defense, there is obviously much work to be done before facing off with Florida’s talented Gators next fall.
QBs: I think we can all step back from the ledge a bit in knowing that the quarterback positon is in fine shape, in spite of the fact that Wilton Speight had a surprisingly tough outing in the spring game Saturday.
Facing stern pressure in the first quarter (from the first defense), and throughout the game, Wilton never had the benefit of the first offensive line as it was split. Brandon Peters had the advantage of a better OL line. Like last year early, Wilton did not seem in touch with his receivers. Wilton’s QB stock wilted some in the game, but he will fight back, and is still the best bet to be the season starter.
His two interceptions hurt. One was on a magnificent play by Viper Jordan Glasgow, who cut in front of the receiver and hustled the football 101-yards for an outstanding pick six. Beautiful nab and run as Glasgow twice evaded closing pursuit. I interviewed him at length at last year’s media day, when he was totally unknown as an M football player, and was masked by the towering shadows of his bigger lineman brothers, Graham and Ryan. He may be smaller, but Ryan is missing a front tooth courtesy of Jordan. The Glasgow family football toughness and smarts are his too, even if in a smaller package. He will compete for time at the Viper position (hybrid LB, safety, and nickel position). Jordan now sports an enormous mane that his helmet can’t hide. It was fun watching that flow behind him as he ran warp speed for six.
The other Wilton pick six, was a nifty nab by Brandon Watson.
There is no question that Brandon Peters had the better day at QB Saturday. He was 9 of 17 for 160-yards. He tossed a 55-yarder to Zach Gentry for the game’s first TD. He also scooted diagonally into the end zone on a remarkable 12-yard TD run. His strong arm was evident whenever he was at the helm.
I don’t think he can unseat Wilton yet, but the battle is going to be fierce, and it might get close. Newcomer CB Benjamin St. Juste made an outstanding interception to give Peters his worst moment of an otherwise sterling performance.
All this competition is good for the most important position group on the team. Two good QBs are a must for success and the Wolverines will have them no matter which one starts. The offense amassed 6 TDs.
The other QBs will be pushed by John O’Korn. John tossed a pretty TD pass to Tarik Black late in the game. The offense amassed 6 TDs. They constantly tested the edge.
OL: Of course it is tough to quantify the OL at this time. The number one line is no surprise. Cole, Bredeson, Kugler, Onwenu, and John Runyan, Jr. constituted the best line, the Maize line. The second will have some pieces of note to develop, like big Cesar Ruiz, and others. This position group will have many interchangeable parts, and will probably need them. But it is impossible to judge them as a unit at this time, though they seemed improved.
There were some individual key performances. A nice Bredeson block on Peters TD illustrates one of them. Cole played LT and Kugler manned the center position to start the game.
RECEIVERS: Fifteen different receivers played. The standout was Tarik Black who was active all afternoon and culminated his performance with a great TD catch near the end of the game. He is tall and a leaper. They kept going back to him. Freshman WR Nate Schoenle had two receptions totaling 58-yards.
RBs: Ty Isaac led the backs with 5 carries for 47-yards, and had a nifty 28-yard visit to the end zone. Karan Higdon had 2 TDs and a nice performance on the day. Kareem Walker looked good as he made a hard inside run breaking tackles. Walker was later dinged, left the field, but returned.
TE’s: Sean McKeon got some work, Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. made a catch. Ian Bunting was not afforded a catch. The position seemed to me to block well. As mentioned previously, TE Zach Gentry collared a 55-yard TD. The position seemed to block well.LINEBACKER DEVIN BUSH STARS: Defensive coordinator Brown indicated postgame that Devin Bush was outstanding. Dr. Blitz indicated: “He’s a mature guy. And football’s important to him. He’s from a football family. It’s so nice when you have a nice guy and he can play in two different spots. You can ask some guys to do that, and they look at you like, Are you kidding me? But he handled that really, really well.”
Khaleke Hudson can play with the best of them at safety or LB.
Lone returnee McCray is solid. Brown also said they are still looking for a 4th LB and that it may be Michael Wroblewski.
DL: The starters are solid. Gary, Hurst , and Mone can be great players this season and I think the DL will be a solid base. I interviewed Rashan Gary (was among the post-game scrum listening to him post game) and I asked him his take on the looming visit to Rome. He is totally enthusiastic, all in, and thinks it will be a great experience. It is an experience not available to most football players.
This line could approach the effectiveness of last year’s. At least Rashan Gary thinks so, and he may be right.
DBs: Benjamin St. Juste, Ambry Thomas, Brandon Watson (Int) had their moments, and gained some experience. Safety Tyree Kinnel played a good game. He led the Maize with 7 tackles, and left some bruises. He hits. Khaleke Hudson was outstanding.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A couple of drops marred the special team’s performance. Nate Johnson dropped a fair catch, probably due to the glare of the sun. KO’s looked adequate, Tice kicked the extra points, and there was a ray of sunshine as Quinn Nordin hit a 48-yarder and made it look oh so easy. A 21-yard FG won the game for the Maize. Hitting of returners was not allowed.
NOTES: The Wolverines will complete their practices in Rome. This constitutes another innovative Harbaugh first. Coach Brown indicated post game that the purpose of the Spring football game is to identify personnel. It is not necessarily a valid evaluator of the worth of a team. Coach Harbaugh was not available at the post game presser, leaving the chore to Brown and Drevno. The quarters of the game were 12 minutes long. The crowd was estimated at 50,000 plus. It was a perfect April football day. At the half, the 2017 recruits were introduced. Jake Butt received the 2016 Mackey Trophy which recognizes the best tight end in the country.
TAKEAWAY: The Wolverines seem to have more athletic players at more positions than before. That advantage is tempered by lack of experience. Can they be coached up enough to win away from home, to battle Florida successfully in their tough season opener? As the work progresses we will get a better idea.