Though it took a while, thanks to what we'll kindly call a "stubborn" first quarter game plan, once the Wolverines decided it was permitted to throw on first down the flood gates opened. Michigan scored on its final six drives, and ended up pretty close to its ideal goal of 200 yards rushing and passing for the game. Furthermore, the offense bailed out the defense for a change with its final two scoring drives, to ice the game with the defense scuffling down the stretch. That's the sort of complementary football the Wolverines never played last season.
The passing game is also developing into an efficient weapon. Check out these numbers:
Donovan Peoples-Jones became the first Michigan wide receiver since Jehu Chesson in 2015 to nab three touchdown catches in a single game, and Zach Gentry was finally the force he was forecast to be heading into the season.
The game preview I wrote Friday called for a 45-yard field goal from Quinn Nordin to get that unit on track and some confidence, and that's just what we saw in the fourth quarter against the Mustangs.
Defensively, the Wolverines' top performers were Chase Winovich, who was all over the field, and much-maligned safety Josh Metellus, whose thrilling pick six to close out the first half was the biggest play of the game.
It's hard to complain about a defense that only surrendered 320 total yards, and had eight tackles-for-loss, but...
SMU played without two starters on that side of the ball, and benched its starting quarterback for a true freshman, who accounted for 130 total yards and two touchdowns while keeping Michigan off balance throughout the second half. Normally that wouldn't be too concerning, except the Mustangs frustrated the Michigan defense doing two things that we've seen in the past are weaknesses of Don Brown's otherwise stellar defensive resume -- opposing quarterbacks exploiting Michigan's man-to-man defense leaving huge running lanes to scamper for first downs, and attacking our safeties downfield in coverage.
For example, on one its second half scoring drives, 5th-year safety Tyree Kinnel handed SMU two third-and-long conversions. One on a pass interference, and another when he was beaten in coverage.
SMU's two second half touchdown drives combined for 28 plays from scrimmage, meaning Michigan couldn't get off the field, and once they switched to the freshman signal-caller the Mustangs ran pretty much the exact same offense Nebraska will bring to Ann Arbor next week. Albeit the Huskers will have better players.
I suppose if you want a glass half-full outlook, at least Michigan got a chance to practice against it. But that defensive effort, particularly the coverage lapses, won't cut it moving forward.
The Bottom Line
I would caution Michigan fans not to be overconfident about next week. Yes, Nebraska is coming to Ann Arbor 0-2 for the first time since Eisenhower was president. But they have some explosive skill position talent, a prideful program, and with the way Coach Scott Frost challenged them after losing to Troy at home, the Wolverines will certainly get Nebraska's shot. I would also expect starting quarterback Adrian Martinez to return as well.
Nevertheless, let's face it. This was a bad week for the Big Ten, and several of our brethren would gladly trade places with us this week -- having some things to work on coming off a 25-point win as opposed to a loss.