EDITORIAL: Why Michigan fans should be concerned despite a 3-0 start

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NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State
Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.


I am a Michigan fan. I have been since 1973 when my oldest brother starting attending U-M, and a few years later took me to my first Wolverine football game.  I feel like I had to start with that because the tone of this article will likely come across rather anti-Wolverine.

Many fans of many teams would be ecstatic if their team started 3-0 and was in the top 10. They would be dancing in the streets and talking about the possibilities ahead. Conference title! College football playoff berth! National championship!

Not in Ann Arbor. Not with this team.

Photo Credit: Kay Scott Otto

I was in attendance for Michigan’s 29-13 win over Air Force on Saturday (yes, with that same brother). We walked out of the Big House like zombies, surrounded by 100,000 other Maize and Blue zombies. There was no laughing, no joking, no discussion of the dominant performance we just witnessed. That’s because there was not a dominant performance.

Other than the final score, there really wasn’t anything to be excited about. The atmosphere was reminiscent of how it feels to walk out of there after a loss.

I know it doesn’t make sense. They have won every game. How dare I be disappointed with that? That is an extremely valid question. Of course, winning is the bottom line. My issue obviously not with the end result; it is how they got there and what it means for the rest of the season.

I have no issues with the Florida game. Despite Wilton Speight’s awful first half, where he threw interceptions on back-to-back series, both of which the Gators returned for touchdowns, it was still a validating win. The defense was fantastic and Speight got into a second-half groove on the way to 33-17 victory against a ranked team.

What we all figured after that game was that the offense got a wakeup call, and against lesser opponents the next couple weeks, they would really strut their stuff. We are still waiting.

Photo Credit: MGoBlog | Flickr

Against Cincinnati, the Michigan offense marched right down the field on the opening drive and it really seemed like they had found their stride. Then they managed only a field goal the entire rest of the half, but thanks a defensive score, had a 17-7 lead at the break. The D also scored in the second half, so that 36-14 victory was primarily earned by the defense.

Against Air Force, it was much worse. Just three Quinn Nordin field goals in the first half led to an anemic 9-6 lead. Over Air Force! They won that game 29-13, but until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, it never felt like they were running away with the game.

I appreciate that you don’t get style points. Winning every game you play by one point would still bring you a title. The problem is they are struggling against opponents they should be crushing, especially these last two weeks. They start the Big Ten schedule on the road at Purdue next week, and they have shown me nothing on offense to make me believe that they can bury the Boilermakers.

With very few exceptions, no conference games are cake walks. What is going to happen when they face quality teams like Penn State, Wisconsin, or in their season finale?

A lot of the blame for the offensive woes have fallen on Speight, which is always the case. The quarterback gets the glory, and he has to shoulder the burden. However, Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff are not helping him much. Their play-calling against Air Force became very predictable. An incompletion on first down; draw or run up the gut on second down; another incompletion on third and long; punt.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The argument could be made that they are minimizing their playbook to not give their conference opponents a look at what they plan to do later in the season, but that doesn’t account for missed blocks, poorly run routes, overthrown passes, dropped passes, and drive-killing penalties. Those are all things that have plagued the offense this season, and a big reason why they have yet to find their groove.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State
Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh looks on in the game against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

So if Speight is the problem, it is an easy solution, right? Bring in John O’Korn, or Brandon Peters. The fact that neither of them has seen the field in the last two games tells me all I need to know about them. I do not believe either of them is any better than Speight at this point, and even if they are, it is obvious that it can’t be by much. Why obvious? Because if they were, they would be playing.

Please remember that when Harbaugh was with the San Francisco 49ers, he chose to bench his Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith in favor of second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, who had just two career starts. It was what was best for the offense because Kaepernick could do things that Smith could not. If O’Korn or Peters could make this offense better, they would already be playing.

This just adds to the frustration. Why can’t “The Quarterback Whisperer” find a guy to properly run his offense? Especially against a pair of defenses that don’t scare anybody.

The schedule begins ramping up from this point forward. Michigan’s defense is great and will likely keep them in every game, but I am not convinced that the offense will ever get to the point where they can carry their half of the load.

The Wolverines are 3-0 and in the top 10, and I should be ecstatic about that. However, instead of enjoying what has happened and looking forward to what’s next, I am feeling a sense of impending dread.

And I have a feeling that I am not alone.

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