Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh speaks to the media on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
The game before The Game has arrived.
Also, basketball season is here, as evidenced by Michigan’s road thrashing of Villanova on Wednesday.
All that and more in this week’s mailbag.
Q: (Michigan was) in the driver’s seat in 2016 and dropped (three of our last four) games. What makes you think this team is different than that team? — @Garbo824
A: A fine question and one I’ve thought about.
The answer is that this Michigan team already has gotten its lesson in what happens when you’re not prepared to handle adversity: The Notre Dame game.
The 2016 team wasn’t put in any difficult situations, really, until the 10th game of the year. Michigan had challenging games vs. Colorado and Wisconsin early, but those were home games. They played away against a bad Michigan State team. But that was it.
Then, when tasked with a spirited Iowa team at night, everything fell apart and they weren’t able to recover. Michigan learned that lesson in Week 1 this season. It was tested again at Northwestern a month later and responded. It was challenged in the second half at Michigan State and responded.
I don’t know that Michigan will win out and advance to the College Football Playoff. Anything can happen.
But evidence suggests Michigan isn’t the type of team that’ll just collapse and hand someone a victory. If Michigan loses, it’s going to take a terrific effort from the opposition.
I believe this team has more mental toughness. Or, at least, it has learned its lesson quicker than the 2016 group did.
Also: This team’s offensive line and quarterback play is better.
Q: What do you think the toughest part of the matchup will be for Michigan vs. OSU? — @AAGoBlue
A: First, we’re allowed to look ahead here in the mailbag because we said so.
Second, Michigan matches up very well with Ohio State on paper.
Ohio State’s offensive line and run game have been nothing like what everyone’s used to seeing from the Buckeyes. In large part because quarterback Dwayne Haskins doesn’t run the football. OSU has become more one-dimensional and, as a result, it has been tougher sledding for running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber this season.
Ohio State has been one-dimensional overall offensively. But the Buckeyes are 9-1 because Haskins and his wide receivers have, for the most part, been outstanding. The Buckeyes still have quick-strike ability all over the field, more than any team in the Big Ten.
They don’t need a ton of room to make something happen, and Haskins has enough arm ability to get the football into well-covered areas. Michigan’s pass defense has been outstanding all season, but this will be a challenge — in the middle of the field, especially.
Defensively, even without Nick Bosa, Ohio State can get after the quarterback. Chase Young and Dre’Mont Jones are good players, no question.
The biggest obstacle for Michigan is playing in Columbus. That’s a brutal environment and, as was the case at Michigan State, it’s an emotional game with some ghosts involved. The Wolverines did a great job of fighting through that stuff mentally in East Lansing. They’ll have to double those efforts in Columbus.
Because this is absolutely a winnable football game for Michigan.
Q: John Beilein seems to be slowly getting the recognition he deserves. When are people going to finally see past the lack of blue-chip recruiting classes and just admit he’s one of, if not the best coach in college basketball at developing young players? — @Burny_21
A: I think you’re understating things just a bit. Beilein gets plenty of credit for being a talent developer. He’s not as loud as other coaches, nor does he do much to draw extra attention to himself.
He doesn’t like attention, in fact. He’d prefer to work in quiet. More attention for his program? Sure. But anyone who knows anything about basketball knows he’s toward the top of the list in terms of overall offensive philosophy and skill development.
I get this question a lot with regard to recruiting. As in: When are all 5-star players going to understand this? But reality is that Beilein’s recruiting plan is very specific and very rigid. He targets players who fit his scheme and personality and spends his time on them. They don’t cast a gigantic net like other schools to chase athletes.
Still, this year’s class ranked No. 12 nationally. Nothing wrong with that.
Q: For the first time all year it seemed like Patterson was told to air it out (at) Rutgers. Do you think that was for passing game growth, to protect (Shea) Patterson (less runs), to put Rutgers away early, or maybe even keep plays from being put on film? Just felt like a different game plan and curious why the change this week. — Joel on email
A: I think it was an adaptation to the situation. Michigan didn’t necessarily enter that game wanting to force an aerial assault, especially with that wind. But Rutgers, at times, loaded up against the run and appeared set on not getting physically humiliated at the point of attack.
This happened, to a degree, earlier this year against Maryland. Michigan found a lot of easy stuff through the air and took advantage of it.
Patterson threw the ball 27 times, which ties for the second-highest number he has had all season. Michigan’s offense does a good job of taking what’s available. And, more than last season, it’s prepared to handle all scenarios.
Balance is everything; schematic balance and the pure run-pass ratio.
Michigan has done a great job balancing spread and pro-style concepts, rushing for 2,134 yards and passing for 2,065. Almost 50-50 on the nose.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.