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September 30, 2019 - Image 8

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comes into

In year four of Don Brown running
question as to what he wants his unit
to be.
He’s going to play man-to-man.
He’s going to blitz. He’s going to tell
his team to swarm the ball carrier
with abandon. They’re going to do
all that, and dare the offense to beat
When Brown coached at UMass,
UConn and Boston College, the
first pages of his playbook carried a
parable about the African plains. He’s
relayed the story at Michigan, too.
Every gazelle knows it must outrun
the fastest lion or be killed. Every
lion knows it must outrun the slowest
gazelle or it will starve.
And then, in all caps: “WHEN THE
All this is to say that, as words like
“identity” have gotten thrown around
the Michigan football team this week,
Brown has never had any question as
to what he wants his team to be. It’s
just a matter of whether they can do
On Saturday, without question,
they did.
A week after Wisconsin throttled
them in Madison, gaining 359 yards
on the ground in one of the most
resounding losses of Brown’s tenure,
his unit held Rutgers to 46 rushing
yards, 152 total yards and zero points.
It’s Michigan’s first shutout since
You’d be justified to take that with
a grain of salt — a 52-0 win against
Rutgers is, ultimately, a win against
the Power Five’s perpetual bottom-
feeder. It means little in terms of
whether the Wolverines can improve
when they play a team like Wisconsin
But, if nothing else, it provided a
pretty good reminder of what Brown’s
defenses can be at their best.
“We got back to playing how we
play,” said sophomore linebacker
Cam McGrone. “How we played
last season, the two games before
Wisconsin. We just got back to who
we were.”
McGrone is one of the bolts on
which Michigan’s defense hinges,
a reality that was exacerbated on
Saturday with Josh Ross sitting due
to injury. A four-star prospect, he sat
and watched last year. When he got in
during the first three games this year,
he did little to stand out.
Against Rutgers, he felt like he was
in high school again, flying all over
the field, hitting the quarterback,
viscerally impacting the game. “If
he keeps playing like this, he’s gonna
be a star,” said Michigan coach Jim
For a defense that had played well
on paper but had yet to really click,
McGrone was one of several puzzle
pieces that seemed to fall into place.
A defensive line group that the
the line of scrimmage behind Kwity
Paye and a healthy Mike Dwumfour.
Michigan notched two sacks, four
quarterback hits and six tackles for
loss. It felt like more.
“I felt like our whole D-Line was
playing well this week,” Paye said.
“We really took it upon us in practice
to really dive for the quarterback and
make sure we do everything that we
can (to get) back there.”
sideline and the linebackers played
with the energy they sorely lacked
in Madison. The secondary shut off
whatever options Rutgers quarterback
Artur Sitkowski had downfield and
freshman safety Daxton Hill, a five-
star who was pegged to contribute
immediately from the moment he
committed, made a tangible impact.
All of this comes with the obvious
caveat that it’s what any competent
team should do to Rutgers. Call it
a result of that, or call it a result of
extra motivation stemming from last
week. Certainly both explanations
replicating the performance against
Iowa next week is the first real test.
But Michigan at least has a blueprint
“I feel like our linebackers played
well this week,” Paye said. “I feel like
our safeties played well and I feel like
our D-Line played well. I feel like we
were just hungry to just come out
here and play. Our main objective was
just to shut them out.”
Mission accomplished.

That’s how Jim Harbaugh
framed the Michigan football
team’s problems last Monday. Full-
scale. Thorough.
In that context, Saturday was as
close to a no-win
proposition as a
football game can
Had Michigan
lost — or even
played to a close
win — we’d be
gathered here
to eulogize this
football season
and discuss the
dying pulse of the
program writ large. Instead, the Wol-
verines beat Rutgers, 52-0. The Scarlet
Knights turned around and fired their
head coach Sunday morning, casting
their net for a savior from seemingly-
interminable irrelevance.
Which is to say: Beating the worst
Power Five program in modern histo-
ry (using SP+ and common logic) does
not nullify last week’s loss at Wiscon-
sin, nor is anyone pretending it does.
But that doesn’t mean Saturday’s
game was devoid of meaning. There
are real things worth carrying for-
ward. Here are a few.
The kids are alright
It’s not just that sophomore Cam
McGrone and freshman Daxton Hill
showed promise of a bright future
Saturday, though both did. It’s that
they’re ready to play — right now — for
a defense that could really use talent
of that ilk.
McGrone filled in at middle line-
backer admirably for junior Josh Ross
as the latter sat with an injury. He
showed signs of the promised speed
and physicality that those who fol-
lowed his recruitment expected.
“If he keeps playing like this, he’s
going to be a star,” Harbaugh said of
Hill is one of those five-star talents
who does things that make it plainly
clear why he was so highly-coveted.
Saturday, there were multiple instanc-
es in which he identified a target, beat
his man to the spot and finished the
tackle with authority. The tackle on
a punt return stands out, of course,
but so did his ability to set the edge on

runs to the sideline.
His performance Saturday was
remiscent of Jabrill Peppers early in
his career. It’s hard to say whether
Hill, akin to Peppers, is ready to play
starter-level snaps in big games, but
boy does that talent make it worth
finding out.
“(Hill is) growing as a football
player very quickly,” Harbaugh said.
“He’s just so fast; that speed shows
up. It shows up when it shows up. You
see it with Dax Hill. You see it with
Cam McGrone. You see it with guys
like that.”
Then the key.
“I think you can probably predict
he’ll be getting more and more time.”
Surely, that’s music to Michigan
fans’ ears. It’s time to throw Hill and
McGrone into the fire and see if they
can hang. If they can, the potential of
this defense grows noticeably.
Gattis is growing
Put the scoreline aside for a
moment. Notching 52 points and over
450 yards against any semi-functional
team is a good sign for this group, but
that’s almost secondary to the bigger
It can be easy to forget Josh Gattis
is no more than a month into a major
coaching adjustment. Think about
where you were the last time you were
mere months into such a formative life
transition. Everything at this juncture
is still experimental. And so, even
against defenses that stand no chance,
there are realizations to be gleaned as
Gattis and his personnel work toward
a coherent marriage.
Saturday, Gattis had senior quar-
terback Shea Patterson on the move
more frequently. For the first time all
season, he found a balance of run and
pass, with a near even split until gar-
bage time featured largely runs.
And while body language can fre-
quently mislead, Gattis looked like
a coach back in his element on the
sideline, conversing with the receiver
group during breaks, yelling at the ref-
erees, high-fiving players after scores.
Everyone is quick to judge this
offense, and thus far, there’s been little
to feel good about. But Gattis talked a
lot about trust this week. Trust with
his players. Trust in his system. Trust
in himself. Trust that all of this will

“All week, (Gattis) emphasized
believing in his players, and we just
have to believe in him,” said junior
running back Christian Turner. “I
think him being on the sideline just
emphasized that even more.”
Success breeds belief. Belief breeds
Both clearly take time, and if you
asked those around the program right
now, they’ll say it takes adversity like
the kind they’ve faced.
Moving to the sideline is not the
magic elixir to ensuring that bond, nor
is bludgeoning a lowly foe. But it’s rea-
sonable to have some patience as that
trust — and hope — builds.
Shea Patterson is not, and has
never been, the problem
What you thought Shea Patterson
would be is not his fault, nor has it
ever been. He’s not good enough to
overcome offensive line struggles.
He’s not good enough to work through
schematic confusion. He, himself,
cannot overcome the pervasive issues
present in this offense early in the
If you thought otherwise, that’s on
you, not him.
He’s the best quarterback on this
roster. Saturday, he showed what
he can do when he has time and a
coherent flow. From his throw to
sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones
on the second drive of the game to his
three rushing touchdowns, Patterson
showed, above all, that he remains
capable of being a well above-average
quarterback and doing things no other
quarterback on this roster can. His
lone interception came on a go-route
to junior Nico Collins, a throw that
required a bit more air, but was far
from a fatal error.
Shea Patterson is who he is — no
more, no less. What he’s not is the root
of any problem with this team.
Those “A-to-Z” problems did not
suddenly vanquish simply because
Rutgers was next on the schedule.
Much of it still lingers. But to dismiss
60 minutes of gameplay, no matter the
opponent, would be a mistake, par-
ticularly heading toward a legitimate
test against Iowa next weekend.

Marcovitch can be reached

at maxmarco@umich.edu or on

Twitter @Max_Marcovitch.

Managing Sports Editor

The Michigan football team bounced back from its loss at Wisconsin with a 52-0 over Rutgers on Saturday afternoon at the Big House.

‘M’ offense

It took all of two minutes and eight
seconds Saturday afternoon.
Two minutes and eight seconds for
Shea Patterson to find Nico Collins on a
48-yard touchdown down the sideline.
Two minutes and eight seconds for
Collins to sprint toward his teammates,
shoulder bumping Mike Sainristil and
Tarik Black in celebration.
Two minutes and eight seconds
for Michigan to discover its offensive
groove after four vexing weeks of
The natural caveat, of course, is the
Wolverines’ opponent. Rutgers ranks
118th of 130 FBS teams in ESPN’s
Michigan’s backups had no trouble
shredding the Scarlet Knights en route
to a 52-0 win.
But four weeks ago, the same could
have been said of Middle Tennessee
State, which ranks 122nd in the same
metric. That night, the Wolverines left
Michigan Stadium with a 40-21 win that
prompted more questions than answers.
Saturday, they did the opposite.
“Josh Gattis, all the offense coaches
and offensive players, the precision they
had, they improved and it showed,” said
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Put
together a really good gameplan and
the players knew it. … And it’s good to
see it paid off in a victory that was much
Through three games, the questions
swirling over Michigan’s offensive
identity were unavoidable. In week
two’s overtime win over Army, the
Wolverines ran 14 more times than they
passed, including an inexplicable run
of 13 straight rushing plays at the end
of regulation. Last week, en route to a
21-point loss at Wisconsin, Michigan
gained just 40 yards on the ground,
opting for an air game that proved
equally ineffective.
At the center of it all was Patterson.
It’s a natural place for a quarterback
to sit when his team struggles, but
Patterson’s start to the season only
added fuel to the fire.
His completion percentage was down
nine points from a year ago. His yards
per attempt had dropped from 8.0 to 7.0.
On the ground, he had dropped from 21
yards per game to three.
Saturday afternoon, he was back to
his old self. The final line — 17-for-23 for
276 yards, four total touchdowns and an
interception — says it all.
“Any time after a loss like that, it
can go two ways,” Patterson said. “And
we worked hard every single day in
practice, trusted the game plan. I just
really like the way we responded as a
Patterson’s natural reaction when
he’s asked about himself is to deflect.
When the questions inevitably came
Saturday, he credited the coaches’
gameplan, the offensive line’s pass
protection, the receivers for getting
open and the defense for advantageous
field position. Not once did he mention
But ask anyone else and you’ll find out
what Patterson means to this team.
“Shea’s one of the best guys I know
about handling his mentality,” said
sophomore running back Christian
Turner. “Media likes to bash him and
stuff like that, but Shea’s a baller and we
all believe in Shea and Shea believes in
If you don’t believe him, you could
just watch the game.
All afternoon, Patterson was clicking.
Two plays in, he found Ronnie Bell for
a 14-yard gain that would have been
his second-biggest of the first three
quarters against Wisconsin. A minute
later came the touchdown to Collins.
On the next drive, it only took him two
completions to get Michigan inside the
Rutgers’ five-yard line, because the
second of those was a perfectly thrown
deep ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones on
the left sideline.
Three plays later, he strolled into the
end zone untouched for his first rushing
touchdown of the year.
“He did really good,” Peoples-Jones
said. “Sat back there and made some
really good throws. His reads. Every
assignment that he did, he did well
As for the questions about Michigan’s
offensive identity? Those came with
a notably different twist — is this your
identity, not what is your identity?
Jones said of the connection between
Wolverines’ identity.
everybody plays good.”

Daily Sports Editor

Sportsmonday Column

Not a lot mattered on Saturday. Here’s what did:

2B — September 30, 2019
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com



The Michigan defense held Rutgers scoreless on Saturday behind a stalwart performance from sophomore Cam McGrone (left).

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