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How Michigan Wolverines Grade-Out After Michigan State Loss

Photo: Andy Shippy

Following Saturday’s emotional 27-23 loss to Michigan State, Michigan defensive tackle Willie Henry said the Wolverines had one thing on their mind: Studying film.

Intense studies and rigorous attention to detail has helped spark team-wide improvement in every area. However, Michigan failed to execute at its highest level Saturday. And for that, it paid the price. But at 5-2 (2-1 B1G), the Wolverines are still very much alive and well.

Read why UM’s season isn’t lost after MSU loss

Effort-wise, Michigan played well–meaning it didn’t back down from an opponent that had won six of the previous eight meetings. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said as much during the postgame conference. Stats-wise, though, the Wolverines didn’t exactly grade-out too well.

Sure, they held the Spartans to 58 rushing yards. Connor Cook was sacked three times. Michigan’s defensive line wasn’t perfect, as Henry pointed out “plays left on the field” across the board, but it certainly held its own. The pass defense, on the other hand, was beaten for a season-high 328 yards. Aaron Burbridge, Cook’s favorite target for good reason, made nine catches for 132 yards.

They weren’t easy grabs. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis was right there, fighting for each ball like he had done for the six previous weeks.

It was an elite-on-elite battle. Average job 1-on-1, but the secondary certainly deserves a D+. Michigan’s D-line gets an A, and the linebackers–who were shortchanged by the officials who ejected Joe Bolden on a cheap call–did enough to aid what continues to be a dominant run-stopping defense. Defensively, a C+ seems appropriate.

The offense was too inconsistent to truly put away the game, but it did enough to push Michigan to a 23-14 lead with roughly nine minutes to play. But then the secondary gave way. And in the loss, quarterback Jake Rudock’s line of 15-for-25 and 186 yards seems rather thin. But in reality, those numbers have been just fine during the past five weeks.

The Wolverines couldn’t establish the run, and that halted their momentum. De’Veon Smith’s 19 carries for 46 yards weren’t anything to rave about. Sione Houma had three carries for 30 yards, including two short-yardage touchdowns, but that was about it. Again, despite less-than-sparkling stats, the offense did enough to beat the Spartans.

The Wolverines only made five first downs Saturday, but they went 5-for-5 in the redzone. That counts for something. The final special-teams flub drags down the overall grade. Michigan didn’t play its best ball, yet it controlled the tempo for the majority of the day.

MSU Grade: Due to poor execution at the end of the game, the Wolverines get a grade of C+ for their showing in Week 7. Punter Blake O’Neill made a big mistake. His bobble was incredibly “unfortunate,” per Harbaugh, and it gave the Spartans an opportunity to make something happen–which they did. Had that play not happened, a B+ for Saturday would have been appropriate. The manner of the four-point loss warrants a significant drop in overall grading.

Both of Michigan’s losses are to playoff-worthy teams: Utah and Michigan State. Sandwich in three consecutive shutouts–one of which came on the road versus Maryland–and the Wolverines still have a great resume to build upon as the season progresses.

Midseason Grades

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Due to constant improvement, Michigan is 5-2 (2-1) has put itself in position to quality for a bowl game. One more win will do it. Photo: Andy Shippy

Both of Michigan’s losses came to playoff-worthy teams: Utah and Michigan State. Sandwich in three consecutive shutouts–one of which came on the road versus Maryland–and the Wolverines still have a great resume to build upon as the season progresses. Take a look how the offense, defense and special teams have fared through seven weeks.

The following sections quickly outline midseason grades. Look for comprehensive individual grades this week (BYE week).

Offense–C+

Michigan averages 29.5 points, good enough for No. 7 in the Big Ten. Michigan’s run-game has yet to peak, but it still churns out 203 yards per game, good enough for No. 3 in the Big Ten. Rudock has connected with just about every eligible receiver on the Wolverines’ roster. During last Monday’s press conference, Harbaugh cited at Rudock’s distribution as one of offense’s top qualities.

Through seven games, the offense gets a C+. Still not there. Still needs work on putting away teams. The rushing helps, but a No. 10-ranked Big Ten passing offense (189 YPG) leaves something to be desired.

Defense–A-

Still one of the best in the nation. Still allows crumbs on the ground. The secondary needs to shape up, but one bad game wasn’t enough to sink the defense into B-Grade territory. Keep in mind, despite the loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines still have the No. 2-ranked defense in the country.

Players such as Chris Wormley, who had a sack Saturday, and Henry, who had two, have helped Michigan’s D-line become known as one of the best. Prior to Saturday, the Wolverines had allowed a stingy 2.2 yards per carry. That held true versus the Spartans, who actually scraped together just 1.8 per rushing attempt.

Special Teams–B

O’Neill’s mistake hurts, but the Wolverines have been great ever since coach John Baxter took control of the kick and return teams. Kicker Kenny Allen has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten. Prior to Michigan State, Allen had outscored Michigan’s opponents, 41-38.

Jabrill Peppers returned three punts for 81 yards Saturday versus Michigan State. The redshirt freshman gives the Wolverines something most teams don’t have–a constant threat regardless of situation. Statistically, the Wolverines rank in the middle of the Big Ten pack. But numbers don’t always tell the full story.

Michigan has a kicker on which it can rely. Allen’s made 10 of 12 field goals, and Michigan fans can actually breathe easily while a 30- or 40-some yarder is being attempted. That wasn’t so in 2014.

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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