Where the Wolverines are

In two weeks, the University of Michigan Wolverines will face their in-state rival, the Michigan State Spartans, and at least on paper, this should be another victory for the Maize and Blue.

However, Michigan has some flaws going into that game, just like the fierce Wild Things in the beloved children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Over the last few games, the Wolverines have “roared their terrible roars” as the book states, especially head coach Jim Harbaugh in his rant about the lack of air conditioning in the visitors’ locker room at Purdue.

The defense has also “gnashed their terrible teeth” with their suffocating pass rush and “showed their terrible claws” in controlling ball carriers.

Michigan leads the nation in total defense with its fourth-rated rushing defense and fifth-ranked passing efficiency defense. The overall defense is even tied for 12th in scoring allowed and actually averages more points per game than eight team’s offenses in the NCAA.

If that wasn’t enough, the Wolverines have shut out both Florida and Purdue in the second halves of their respective games.

It’s hard to find a more dominant unit in the country outside of the NFL and it’s just getting started. Now you can make an argument that the Wolverines’ opponents haven’t been of the highest-caliber, but it’s still fun watching this team continue to get better.

While the defense has become “wild,” the Michigan offense has not. The Wolverines have been “rolling their terrible eyes” with mediocrity and they’re making their loyal fans do the same thing.

Michigan currently sits 71st in total offense and is tied for 60th in points per game. It’s also 54th in rushing yards and 73rd in passing yards.

It’s almost bizarre as to how this team can be so strong on one side of the ball and so weak on the other.

The most glaring weakness on offense lies at quarterback. Starting signal-caller Wilton Speight has been inconsistent and looked overwhelmed against Florida in Week 1. The senior had two pick-6s and finished with only 181 yards and couldn’t get past the 200-yard mark against Air Force, which had the 49th passing defense.

Meanwhile, backup John O’Korn, called on after Speight was injured, looked strong under center after he racked up 270 yards against an improved Purdue squad and helped lead the Wolverines to a nice second-half comeback.

Do the Wolverines need a quarterback change? Duh. As Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press said, “John O’Korn did in one afternoon what Speight has been trying to do the last three weeks.” Not only that, but O’Korn is much more mobile and with Michigan’s receiving corps lacking, the Wolverines are going to need a guy who can make plays with his feet as well.

Having O’Korn replace Speight will help quite a bit, but Michigan needs to develop a running game as well. There’s a lot of experience back there, so somebody should be emerging by now, but nobody is.

Until that happens, it looks like Harbaugh will be going with a three-man backfield with Ty Isaac, Chris Evans and Karan Higdon sharing the load. There’s still time to figure this situation out though, as Michigan’s next real threat will be against No. 4 Penn State on Oct. 21 in Happy Valley.

So where are the Wolverines? They’re in pretty good shape. They’re looking strong on defense and should handle the Spartans’ offense easily.

MSU’s two wins came against Mid-American Conference teams and it struggled against Notre Dame a week ago. Yesterday, the Spartans had to deal with a stout Iowa defense and the Hawkeyes held them to only 88 yards on the ground. Even though MSU held on to get the 17-10 win, that kind of running game won’t cut it against Michigan.

Offensively, the Wolverines are struggling but if O’Korn moves permanently to starter, it should provide a much-needed boost. Even if the fifth-year quarterback is a little off, the defense will most likely carry Michigan against the Spartans.

At the same time though, it’s a rivalry game and it should be competitive. There probably won’t be a blocked punt returned for a touchdown like the last matchup in Ann Arbor, but it’ll be entertaining. So as the character Max says in that famous children’s book, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.


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