Every week, we take a look at what we learned from Michigan's game and what questions have arisen.
What We Learned: Zach Gentry has the makings of an All-American (at the very least an All-Big Ten first-team performer).
It will probably be hard for Gentry to garner All-American honors with Stanford’s Kaden Smith (27 receptions for 382 yards) and San Jose State’s Josh Oliver (31 for 382) among a few tight ends nationally outpacing Gentry thus far this season, but Michigan’s redshirt junior is trending: 17 grabs for 285 yards in the past four games.
Gentry’s 20 catches this year rank second among tight ends in the Big Ten behind Rutgers’ Bo Melton (21) while his 306 yards receiving rank first for tight ends, ahead of Iowa TJ Hockenson’s 287 yards.
The former QB had a career day against Maryland with seven receptions for 112 yards, four of his seven catches going for first downs. Gentry, in fact, has been the team’s most reliable mover of the chains, with 15 of his 20 grabs this year (75.0 percent) going for first downs.
He also has a team-high six receptions this season of 20 yards or more (one ahead of sophomore wide receiver Nico Collins).
Gentry clearly enjoys a camaraderie with quarterback Shea Patterson and while Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones have enjoyed some highs the past four games, Gentry has been the most consistent target, catching at least three balls each week (Collins and DPJ have just one game of three receptions or more the past four contests).
What We’re Asking: When will another slow start cost Michigan?
The Wolverines dominated Maryland in the first quarter Saturday, with more than five times as many yards as the Terrapins (122-21) and twice as much time of possession (10:11 to 4:49), yet somehow found themselves losing at the end of the first period 7-3, walking away with a single field goal on three possessions inside UMD territory.
Michigan holds a positive margin in first quarters this season, 44-31 in scoring, and in yards, 697-408, but those numbers are inflated by performances in two games – against Western Michigan and Nebraska, U-M scored 41 first-quarter points and had 382 yards.
The Wolverines started slowly against Notre Dame (down 14-0), SMU (tied 0-0), Northwestern (down 10-0) and Maryland (7-3), at least on the scoreboard against the Terrapins.
This most recent example seems a bit like an anomaly considering how easily Michigan moved the football – their first three possessions, the Wolverines went 40 yards, 56 yards and 39 yards (though their fourth was a two-play, two-yard drive ending with an interception).
So far, Michigan has been able to recover from its slow starts to rally to three victories. U-M almost overcame its first-quarter struggles against Notre Dame, but obviously the Irish are a higher caliber opponent than SMU, Northwestern and Maryland, and held on for the win.
What we don’t know yet is if Michigan is slow out of the gate against Wisconsin or Michigan State, will it be the team’s undoing? Maybe we find out, maybe we don’t next weekend. But chances are, at some point, another first-quarter fail will cost the Maize and Blue.
What We Learned: Shea Patterson is Michigan’s secret weapon.
Well, secret isn’t the right word since everyone knows who he is, but he’s the Wolverines’ best chance at beating Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State, as U-M has a legit play-making QB for the first time since Devin Gardner was healthy and in the zone in the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 (before playing behind a horrid offensive line crushed his soul).
Patterson had a few errant throws but he more than made up for them with several big-time throws, scrambles and ‘ha-ha’ moments in which Michigan fans again witnessed his uber-talent and realized our guy is better than your guy, has been for five weeks now, and will be going forward the rest of October (and dare I say Nov. 3 against Penn State too).
Michigan has a legit chance to win the Big Ten East because its defense is lights out, its offensive line is improving, it has skill players that can make big plays, and it finally has a quarterback that is consistently the best player on the field.
What We’re Asking: Can Michigan break its up-and-down pattern?
First game – L to Notre Dame
Second game – thorough domination of Western Michigan
Third game – struggles some with SMU
Fourth game – dominates Nebraska from start to finish
Fifth game – slips by Northwestern
Sixth game – has complete control in a win over Maryland
Bad then great, then average, then awesome, then ‘eh,’ then outstanding. Up and down, up and down (or should say “down and up”). U-M cannot afford to be so-so this weekend against Wisconsin.
Hopefully, the Wolverines break their trend and put together a consistently strong effort in back-to-back games for the first time all year.