Well, I think we can all agree that today has been a wild card day in terms of the first week of Big Ten Football: Nebraska held on for a half in Columbus, and Indiana crushed the Nittany Lions in double OT!
All week, people have asked what the Wolverines would be on the road in Minnesota.
Honestly, I didn't know how good the offense would be since they had to replace 4 NFL caliber offensive linemen and a quarterback.
Much to my surprise, the offense looked unstoppable on their way to a 49-24 beat down of Minnesota. In big part, to Joe Milton.
The Joe Show
Milton was more than impressive in his first true showing under center. He went 15-22 for 225 passing yds. and a touchdown, with one more score on the ground. Was it as impressive as Justin Fields today for the Buckeyes? No. But, Milton had to have his first showing on the road, in the cold, against a good Minnesota team. He did so without making any mistakes. After a special teams faux-pas that led to a quick Golden Gopher score, Milton and co. came right back for a strike of their own. And they continued to do that until the game was over. Running-back Hassan Haskins praised Milton for his calm demeanor when playing from behind. He said nothing really gets in his head, he goes out there and does his job. Harbaugh described him as "cool as a cucumber". The guy made no mistakes.
The defense was good enough, I'm not going to harp on them too much. It was the patented Don Brown scheme: man coverage with a ton of pressure up front. Edge rushers Kwity Paye and Aiden Hutchinson seemed to take over the line of scrimmage for a combined 10 tackles and 3 sacks. Having said all that, the secondary still has a lot to work on. Their were some times guys were left on an island and got beat on some deep throws. The run defense was spotty as well, giving up 140 rushing yds. to Mohamed Ibrahim. I wouldn't worry about it too much though, Ibrahim had a great game and he deserves most of the credit.
The most impressive defensive performance undoubtedly goes to Linebacker Michael Barrett. Barrett came in like a bull to force that fumble in the first quarter that led to Donovan Jeter's scoop and score. This guy was flying all over the field, impressing Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit all game. This guy adds a lot to the playmaking ability of the unit; a lot to like.
Jim Harbaugh gets a lot of criticism around here, and rightly so. What can't be criticized was his desire to give his team the opportunity to suit up and play a season. Anthony Bellino says it all the time: a college head coach is more of a CEO of a company than he is a football coach. That meant even more this offseason given the global pandemic. Harbaugh marched with his players, and installed strict guidelines to prevent Covid-19 penetrating Schembechler Hall early on in the offseason. He joined his post-game presser today with possibly the biggest smile I've ever seen him crack. There was a lot of work that went into playing this game for both teams, and Harbaugh pointed out how much fun it was for everyone to be out their tonight. They're not out of the clear yet, but give credit to the program for getting a jump on combatting the virus.
Long Way To Go
The Wolverines have a long way to go if they want to be the Big Ten Champions, but the first game was impressive. The offense had 4 guys account for touchdowns, and 9 receivers were options for Milton! I've covered the Wolverines for 4 years now, and the offense hasn't looked that good probably ever. Last year was filled with many missed opportunities in important moments, tonight looked much different. Joe Milton's composure led to a balanced, potent offense. The scary part? He's just getting started, and there's a lot of potential left to unlock.
Michigan will host Michigan St. next week on Halloween at noon.