Coming into the 2018 season, Michigan’s struggles in big games have been well-documented. The Wolverines have not won a road game against a ranked team since 2006, and won fewer than half of their games against ranked opponents during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.
As the season crept closer, Michigan fans hoped that this year would be different, and that they would see improvements in the team’s major issues: the offensive line and quarterback play. Over the offseason, Michigan hired offensive line coach Ed Warinner and brought in quarterback transfer Shea Patterson from Ole Miss to address these issues.
In the Notre Dame game, there were glaring issues on the offensive line, specifically with the tackles. Fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty started at right tackle and fourth-year junior Jon Runyan Jr. started at left tackle, and struggled to protect Patterson for the majority of the game. The interior of the line, guards Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu and center Cesar Ruiz, held up for most of the night, but did allow some pressure to come through.
Overall, the line, which was said to be improved all through camp, struggled to give relief to Patterson and the running game. Running back Karan Higdon did a decent job running the ball, gaining 72 yards and scoring a touchdown, but there weren’t many opportunities for big plays. One of the only times the line held up and gave Patterson time to throw, he completed a 52 yard pass to Nico Collins.
Quarterback play is another area that Michigan has struggled with during Harbaugh’s tenure, and Shea Patterson was brought in to improve the production at that position. Last season, the Wolverines used three different quarterbacks due to injury, and they combined to throw for 2,226 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. No quarterback threw hit 1,000 yards in 2017.
In the opener against Notre Dame, Shea Patterson looked to be an improvement to combination of Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, and Brandon Peters, but he did not impress to the level Michigan fans hoped. He completed 20 of his 30 passes for 227 yards, threw one interception, and no touchdowns. He also fumbled on Michigan’s last play of the game in a last-ditch effort to tie the game and send it to overtime. Many of his mistakes can be attributed to pressure from the offensive line, including his turnovers, but he needs to elevate his game if Michigan is going to make strides in 2018.
The jury may still be out on how Patterson’s 2018 season will play out, but the offensive line certainly needs work if Michigan expects to survive its difficult schedule. They play Western Michigan and SMU at home before a night game against Nebraska, which will be the next test for Harbaugh’s third season.