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This is supposed to be a rough year for Michigan. The Wolverines lost 18 of 22 starters from 2016, including 2 first round draft picks from the defensive side of the ball. This roster is one of the youngest in college football and they have a gauntlet of a schedule that includes a trip to defending Big Ten champion Penn State and the last three weeks at Maryland, at Wisconsin and at home against rival Ohio State. With all that being said, the Wolverines showed up to open the 2017 season by beating Florida 33-17 in a game that was not as close as the score may lead you to believe. Michigan has some things to work on, but some things to be excited about as well. Here are 5 takeaways.
- The defensive front 7 are fast……and athletic……and hit hard. So basically they haven’t lost a step.
I could not believe how fast the front 7 of Michigan looked against Florida. You know Harbaugh has recruited well during his first two seasons at Michigan and it showed. Devin Bush had the best day in my opinion notching 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. It was almost a lost afternoon for him after he was flagged for a targeting penalty on the second play of the game that ended up being overturned after the replay. The Michigan defense held Florida to 11 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Michigan has had some good defensive players in the past few years, but one of the issues that I always saw was a lack of speed.
They could hit hard and tackle well, but could not keep up with the true elite athletes they played against. I don’t think that will be the case with this defense. And not only are they fast and athletic, but they hit hard. Several times I caught myself saying “holy cow” when a Michigan defensive player would lay a hit on someone from Florida. Malik Zaire probably took several of those hits as he spent the majority of his afternoon scrambling away from pressure. This defense is going to be fun to watch in 2017 and beyond.
- Where was Rashan Gary?
The former #1 overall recruit is the face of this defense. People seem to agree he is a future first round pick and possess a combination of size and speed that is unstoppable at the college level, but he was quiet in this game. Gary only notched 2 tackles (1 for loss) and 1 QB hurray. On a day where the defense was so good, Gary really wasn’t that good. There were several times where Gary would get in the backfield, but seem to over pursue the QB and miss out on a big tackle. At one point, Zaire left Gary behind on a nice spin move. There is no need to panic, he won’t have many games like this. It just seemed like he played with his motor at 110% all game and didn’t settle down enough to let the game come to him, he just wanted to make every play and it hurt him. When Mattison and the other coaches sit down to look at tape with him this week, I’m sure they will offer the advice needed and we will see Gary all over the stat sheet next week against Cincinnati.
- Wilson Speight was a roller coaster.
I was having flashbacks to last year’s game against Ohio State at times against Florida. Speight made a couple bad plays in both games that cost Michigan positions and valuable points.
Luckily the defense didn’t wear down this time and was able to help seal the win. Speight is a fine QB, he does some things right and some things wrong. I’m not sold on Speight being the QB that helps Michigan win a Big Ten title though. I don’t read too much into Speight being benched in favor of senior backup John O’Korn for two straight drives after his back to back pick 6’s. Harbaugh said it was to give Speight a break and let him gain his composure again, and I believe that. In fact, Speight looked much better after that happened. Speight made several good throws against Florida, but he also made several bad throws. Both of his INT’s where poor throws and he missed a wide open Kekoa Crawford that would have been a for sure touchdown. He hit deep throws to Tarik Black and Nick Eubanks, which Speight had trouble with last year. The offense is loaded with talent at receiver, at tight end and at running back, so I hope Speight can climb to their level and let this offense run wide open. Even though we saw some of O’Korn today this is Speights job still. I look forward to watching Brandon Peters under center soon though as he has the most talent of any QB on the team outside of Dylan McCaffrey. It appears we still have some time till we see him though.
- The jury is still out on the offensive line.
The play was not awful and Florida has a very good front 7 on defense, but I wasn’t sold on the offensive line being a strength yet. I know, I’m being a downer here especially considering the Wolverines ran for 215 yards and broke open several long runs.
Nolan Ulizio made some mistakes at right tackle, giving up a couple sacks and with a bad false start penalty in the second half. He had to battle in camp for that spot, so it will be interesting to see if there are any changes before playing Cincinnati next week. The offensive line has fooled us in recent years, getting off to strong starts then disappearing after the schedule heats up in conference. I am going to progress with cautious optimism at this point.
- The secondary did not get the test I hoped for.
The front 7 looked absolutely on fire all game, but I did not get to see enough from the secondary to decide if they will be a strength this year. The Wolverines has a chance for a couple interceptions that were dropped and corners were turned around a couple of times. When you play an aggressive style of football like Don Brown does, you are going to give up some big plays. The secondary will need to grow up in a hurry though as Michigan will not have the luxury of having this as a weak spot in 2017. The athleticism is there, now it’s time to add everything else. The Gators were playing without their top receiver and top running back, plus the QB situation for the Gators does not seem to be a strong point. Unfortunately, I don’t see a true test for the secondary until they travel to Happy Valley on October 21st.