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Interview with Football Frenemies: Michigan

The No. 16 Michigan Wolverines are looking for their first win as underdogs in the Jim Harbaugh era.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of Saturday’s long-awaited White Out against Michigan, we caught up with our friends over at Maize N Brew to talk about the match-up between two teams looking for statement wins on Saturday night. Before we dive into the interview, we’d like to thank Maize N Brew’s Trevor Woods for his time!

Now without further adieu;

  1. Michigan’s offense seems to be performing below expectations. What seems to be the overall issue, and where is the offense now compared to your expectations at the start of the season?

Execution. A major issue on offense has been fumbles, they’ve put the ball on the ground 17 times and have lost 9 of those fumbles. Obviously that’s really bad and Michigan needs to play turnover free football in hostile environments on the road. Michigan’s offensive line wasn’t protecting the quarterback earlier on in the year, but they’re playing better now. Michigan was banged up at running back, now Zach Charbonnet is back to full health and looks like they found a bruiser for a No. 2 back last week in Hassan Haskins. Quarterback Shea Patterson hasn’t played as well this season compared to 2018, which has fans worried and wanting to see backup Dylan McCaffrey in the game.

As far as where the offense is compared to where I thought it would be, it’s my own fault for having high expectations out of the gate. With new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis coming in and installing a new up-tempo pro-spread scheme, it actually shouldn’t have come as a surprise that there have been growing pains this season. Gattis’ scheme promises to be aggressive and dictate what it does, it is supposed to get their playmakers the ball with ‘speed in space’. I don’t think we’ve seen this offense at their best, and it remains to be seen if we’ve seen them at their worst.

2) Penn State’s defense has been fantastic against the run this season. Do you think Michigan will be able to find success in the run game, or will they need to rely on Shea Patterson?

They’ll have to rely on Patterson in certain stages of the game no matter how good Michigan’s run game performs. Patterson will need to hit his shots when they’re available.

Michigan will have at least moderate success running the ball. Michigan’s line is looking good enough to spring at least a couple sizable gains. Penn State will get their stuffs, but Michigan has talent at the position that won’t get completely shut out.

3) Patterson’s completion percentage has dipped this season. What has been the cause of this?

In short, he hasn’t been as accurate. Patterson hasn’t been consistently on the money to any area of the field and has had his share of misses on short, intermediate, and long throws. Part of the inaccuracy can be blamed on the pressure he received from the Army, Iowa, and Wisconsin defenses, but Patterson wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

4) Which match-up will you be paying close attention to on Saturday (either individual vs. individual or position group vs. position group)?

The trenches on both sides of the ball for Michigan. The Wolverines offensive line really needs to protect Patterson and give him time to operate. It’s also smart to pack a run game on the road and the o-line has a major say in the effectiveness of a running attack. For the Michigan d-line, it’ll be real important to maintain their gaps and contain Sean Clifford in hopes of making him pass from the pocket all game long. Clifford has been a fine QB this season, but he’s struggled when pressured.

5) Penn State’s offense has run hot and cold at times throughout the season. What will be the key for Michigan’s defense to slow down the Nittany Lions?

Pretty much continuing what was said in the question above, Michigan needs to pressure Clifford and make him play from the pocket. If the Michigan pass rush is able to get to Clifford quickly and the d-line clogs the running lanes for him to scramble, this game could go Michigan’s way.

6) Which lesser-known (at least to Penn State fans) Michigan player could be the X-factor on Saturday?

Wide receiver Ronnie Bell has really developed into one heck of a receiver for Michigan. Bell is up to 20 receptions and 361 yards (0 TDs). Bell is a go-to target in crucial 3rd down situations.

7) How do you see this game playing out and what is your prediction for the final score?

Really not sure how this game is going to play out so no prediction or final score from me. Penn State has the home field advantage on their side, it’s a freaking whiteout game at night in Happy Valley, it’s going to be nuts. Penn State could hit a few big plays in both the run and pass game and create enough separation and momentum to breeze in this one. Michigan could play their most fundamentally sound game yet with their offense finally hitting their stride and their defense could shutdown Penn State’s offense like Iowa did for much of the game last week. Penn State’s defense could pressure Patterson and create a couple turnovers that aid in a close game. It could be a throwback low-scoring affair. It could be a game where both team goes over 25 points. A lot of things could happen, just not sure what. This is a rivalry, and it’s going to be fun (at least until something bad happens to your respective team). Best of luck to Penn State and I wish you and your readers well.

(No final score provided)