What We Learned & What Questions We Now Have: Western Michigan Edition

Following U-M's 49-3 blowout of Western Michigan, we learned a lot about Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines.

What We Learned: Despite fierce criticism and debate among Michigan fans about the state of the offensive line after the Wolverines' week-one loss to Notre Dame, Jim Harbaugh was dead serious when he announced last Monday he intended to stick with the same starting lineup against Western Michigan.

Michigan's starting quintet -- redshirt junior left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., junior left guard Ben Bredeson, sophomore center Cesar Ruiz, junior right guard Michael Onwenu and fifth-year senior right tackle Juwan Bushell-Beatty -- played the first three quarters of Saturday's game. That's 43 plays, if you're keeping track at home, before we saw a second unit earn 10 fourth-quarter snaps.

The first group surrendered three QB pressures on 18 drop-backs, though they were aided by six rollouts (two the left and four to the right) that allowed junior Shea Patterson to escape the pocket and throw on the run. In fact one could surmise there is such little faith in the ability to pass protect the coaches designed and then called 1/3 of all pass attempts to avoid sitting in the pocket.

The unit also paved the way for 244 of Michigan's 308 yards rushing, with an average of 9.4 yards per carry.

What We're Asking: With no changes on the horizon, all of us need to accept this is likely the starting five Michigan will feature against Nebraska in the Big Ten opener in two weeks and then against Northwestern, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan State, etc. What none of us knows is whether this five will be up to snuff against the better D-Lines it will face.

Runyan and Bushell-Beatty, guilty of 15 combined QB pressures against ND, allowed only two combined QB pressures against the Broncos (one each, while Bredeson also permitted a pressure).

As previously mentioned, it is worth noting Michigan had Patterson on the run a lot in this game to assist the efforts in keeping him upright. On the Wolverines' 44-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Nico Collins in the second quarter, the Maize and Blue also employed max protection, keeping a tight end and a running back in to block on the slow-developing play.

What We Learned: When Patterson went down for a few plays with cramps in U-M's Sept. 1 road contest in South Bend, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey - and not redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters - entered the game as his backup. Harbaugh said Peters suffered an injury and that was the only reason McCaffrey was No. 2.

Yet it appears McCaffrey also beat out Peters, evidenced by the fact both played this weekend, and it was McCaffrey who received second-team snaps - he received six reps to Peters' four, led a scoring drive with a 10-yard read-option run and a 18-yard TD pass (Peters was relegated to handing the ball off four times).

So why the deception? Talk simmered this summer Peters could be on his way out (this is the second, or third, it's hard to keep track) rumor of a transfer for the Indiana native, and Harbaugh was likely trying to keep an early defection. The truth is, Michigan might need Peters at some point this year, though with his moxie on display yet again Saturday, McCaffrey has twice now demonstrated he's the man to beat post-Patterson.

What We're Asking: Michigan threw the football 18 times against Western Michigan, completing 13 (72.2 percent). Was that enough? Both the running game and the passing attack were broken in the opening-weekend loss to Notre Dame. U-M had plenty of opportunities to work on the run against the Broncos, but 18 pass attempts hardly seems like enough to iron out all of U-M's aerial issues.

Redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry, who struggled against the Irish, was only targeted once. Senior Grant Perry was targeted twice (and didn't have a catch). Michigan's young trio of second-year players: Collins (once), Donovan Peoples-Jones (four) and Oliver Martin (twice) were targeted seven total times (and had six catches for 84 yards and two TDs).

Perhaps we'll see more from the passing game this weekend when Michigan takes on an SMU team that ranks 111th nationally after two contests in allowing 303.5 yards through the air per game, with opponents throwing an average of 39.5 times per game and completing 70.9 percent of their attempts.

What We Learned: Michigan's 1-2 punch at running back is every bit as dangerous as we expected but when the coaches and players talked up walk-on Tru Wilson this August, they weren't just blowing smoke. Wilson rushed for 54 yards on six carries, including gains of 13 and 17 yards.

The 5-10, 202-pound junior showcased strength, speed and vision during the third and fourth quarters Saturday, and he looks to be next in a long line of walk-ons (Wilson was awarded a one-year scholarship this August) to make a difference for the Maize and Blue.

What We're Asking: After dispatching of Western Michigan, the Maize and Blue now face an SMU team that has been outscored 88-35 in losses to North Texas and TCU, and then will get a Nebraska team that may or may not have its young phenom, Adrian Martinez, under center after suffering a knee injury to Colorado over the weekend. Week 5 foe, Northwestern, meanwhile lost at home 21-7 to Duke in an ugly affair.

Michigan's best competition before its week-seven matchup with Wisconsin may be Oct. 6 Homecoming opponent Maryland, which is 2-0 after beating Texas 34-29 and Bowling Green 45-14.

If Martinez is healthy in two weeks, Nebraska could be formidable - the Cornhuskers were leading 28-27 when Martinez went down in the fourth quarter -- and the Wildcats always seem to stink it up in at least one non-conference contest before finding its legs in Big Ten play, but it's quite possible the Wolverines will not be tested until they welcome the Badgers to Ann Arbor Oct. 13.

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