Sunday Five: Defense Dominates Again

Our Sunday Five breaks down five things from different categories about the game.

Our Sunday Five breaks down five things from different categories about the game.

It seemed eerily similar to last year’s game for a while, but the Wolverines eventually pulled away for a 21-7 victory over Michigan State. Our Sunday Five Looks at the best of the best from the win.

Michigan’s five best players:

LB Devin Bush

Bush did a little bit of everything, finishing with four tackles and a sack. The bigger testament to how outstanding his performance was, however, was limiting Michigan State to 15 rushing yards. Michigan’s defense held the Spartans to a meager 0.7 yards per carry and probably should have pitched a shutout. All the success this unit has starts with Bush.

DE Josh Uche

The junior did an admirable job stepping up once again to help fill the void left by the injury to Rashan Gary. Uche was the only player on either team to record multiple sacks and now has five in his last four games. If he and the rest of the defensive line continue to play this well, Gary’s absence becomes almost a non-factor.

RB Karan Higdon

Higdon extended his streak of 100-yard games to six, ending with 144 on 33 carries. Even when things aren’t clicking for Michigan’s offense, he’s been a remarkably consistent option. Averaging 4.4 yards per carry against the top-ranked rushing defense in the country says just about everything that needs to be said regarding Higdon.

QB Shea Patterson

It wasn’t pretty in the first half, but Patterson proved his explosive game on the ground against Wisconsin wasn’t a fluke. He ran the read option at a high level again while throwing for 212 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The junior outplayed his counterpart Brian Lewerke by a wide margin, which is all Michigan needed him to do.

DB Tyree Kinnel

Kinnel’s three solo and five total tackles, including one for a loss, both led the team. He was active in the box and in the secondary. When a quarterback completes 20 percent of his passes for 66 yards, the defensive backs deserve an immense amount of credit. The combination of a strong secondary and ferocious pass rush makes the Wolverines’ defense something special.

Michigan’s five best plays:

Donovan Peoples-Jones 79-yard touchdown reception

After forcing yet another punt, it took one play for the Wolverines to take back control of the game. Shea Patterson threw a great ball to Peoples-Jones, who raced to the end zone. Just like that, Michigan had a 14-7 lead. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter, but Michigan finally got the ball to its playmaker and the game changed because of it. All these receivers need is an opportunity. More times than not, they’ll make something happen.

Nico Collins catch on tipped pass

Michigan continued its second possession of the game after the weather delay and faced a third-and-8 on its own side of the field. Shea Patterson’s throw was deflected but Collins ran underneath it for a first down. Not only was it a terrific reaction on the part of Collins to see what was happening and come back to the ball, but it also sustained the drive where the Wolverines scored their first touchdown.

Nick Eubanks 25-yard reception

Immediately following Collins’ catch, Patterson found tight end Nick Eubanks to put Michigan on the edge of the red zone. The offensive line gave Patterson plenty of time and he delivered an absolutely wonderful throw. The pass was placed perfectly so Eubanks was the only player with any chance of catching it. Having a quarterback who can consistently make throws like this one is a luxury.

Joe Hewlett fumble recovery

Punting on Michigan’s first drive following Michigan State’s touchdown, Jordan Glasgow’s tackle helped pry the ball out of Shakur Brown’s hands. The fumble was recovered by Joe Hewlett and gave the Wolverines’ offense another chance. It was a crucial play to maintain momentum and not allow the Spartans’ offense to build off of their touchdown. There was nothing flashy about it but stepping up in moments like this is often the difference between winning and losing.

Shea Patterson fourth down conversion

Jim Harbaugh decided to keep the offense on the field in a 14-7 game and Patterson rewarded his trust with an 11-yard run to move the chains. Patterson saw the defensive end crashing down, sold the fake, and kept the ball. It was a perfect example of how a read option should work. More importantly, this play kept a drive alive that eventually resulted in Michigan’s third and final touchdown of the game.

Five most interesting stats:

  • This was Michigan’s first road win over a top-25 opponent since 2006.

The Wolverines defeated Notre Dame, ranked No. 2 in the country, 47-21 in South Bend.

  • Michigan State did not convert a third down the entire game.

The Spartans were zero-for-12 on third down and also failed on their only fourth down attempt.

  • The last time Michigan had a passing touchdown against the Spartans was 2011.

Nico Collins’ 6-yard touchdown reception ended the drought and opened the scoring.

  • Michigan is now 2-0 against teams it lost to last season.

Potential revenge games Penn State and Ohio State are still on the Wolverines’ schedule.

  • Brian Lewerke posted the second-lowest completion percentage of his career.

His two-for-14 outing against Maryland last season was the only one worse than his five-for-25 showing in this game.

Five plays Michigan would like back:

Failure to capitalize on field position in second quarter.

On the Wolverines’ final four possessions of the first half, their average starting field position was exactly midfield. They scored a total of zero points on those drives. That simply can’t happen. When a team is given excellent field position four times in a row, they have to take advantage. On another day where Michigan’s defense isn’t so dominant, the game is lost right there.

Chris Evans fumble

Trying to play it safe on third-and-12 at its own 9-yard line, Michigan handed the ball off to Chris Evans. Raequan Williams knocked it out of Evans’ hand and the Spartans recovered. They capitalized on the game’s first turnover, scoring their only touchdown to tie the score at seven. With Michigan State’s offense unable to get anything going, gifting them that kind of field position was absolutely devastating.

Quinn Nordin missed field goal

It’s officially time to be worried about Michigan’s kicking game. Quinn Nordin followed up last week’s miss from 41 yards out with a 36-yard miss against the Spartans. The kick would have given the Wolverines a 10-0 lead, but the Spartans were able to keep it a seven-point game at halftime. Nordin’s lack of reliability is another factor the coaching staff has to consider when making decisions throughout a game.

Karan Higdon fumble on read option

Much of the discussion following last week’s win over Wisconsin centered around the read option, and rightfully so. With both offenses struggling to do anything and the game tied in the third quarter, the Wolverines got their mesh point wrong, leading to another fumble recovered by Michigan State. As good as Patterson has been with read options the past two weeks, this play serves as a reminder of the potential danger they pose.

Shea Patterson near-interception

While things were still knotted at seven in the third quarter, Khari Willis almost intercepted Patterson’s pass on third down. Receiver Grant Perry broke one way and his quarterback threw the ball the other. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision by Patterson, but he has to be on the same page as his teammates. Even though nothing awful came of it, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned.

Five performances of note:

RB Isaiah Bowser (Northwestern):

For a Northwestern team that has struggled to get a consistent running game going all season, Bowser’s 108 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries are a huge deal. The true freshman came into this week’s game with two rushes for two yards on the year. He might be the replacement for the retired Jeremy Larkin the Wildcats have been searching for.

QB Kasim Hill (Maryland):

For the fourth time in five games, Hill failed to throw for over 100 yards or post a completion percentage over 50. He went six-for-15 for 47 yards and an interception. The only game this season where Hill threw for more than 121 yards was the season opener against Texas. He also failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third time this year.

QB Trace McSorley (Penn State):

McSorley was the Nittany Lions’ leading passer and rusher with 220 passing yards and 107 rushing yards. He completed 53 percent of his 36 passes and threw an interception. Both of his touchdowns came on the ground. It was the first time this season the fifth-year senior did not throw a touchdown pass.

RBs Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington (Nebraska):

The Cornhuskers’ running back tandem combined for 261 yards on the ground while only totaling 26 attempts. Ozigbo averaged 12.7 yards per carry has now topped the 150-yard mark in three of his last four games. Washington posted a season-high 109 yards and scored a touchdown for the second game in a row.

RB D.J. Knox/WR Rondale Moore (Purdue):

Knox and Moore destroyed the Buckeyes’ defense, scoring five touchdowns between them. Moore scored from 42 and 40 yards out in the fourth quarter, finishing with 128 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Moore caught 12 passes for 170 yards and recorded a 43-yard touchdown of his own. The two of them had more touchdowns than the rest of the players in the game combined.