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Key components of Michigan’s team success in 2016

Photo: Andy Shippy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s level of talent and potential can be discussed and dissected to no end. But for the sake of convenience, let’s just say that the Wolverines have been exceptional — off to a 9-0 start, their best since 2006 — due to a few simple reasons: Speed, discipline and execution.

Coach talk! All stuff you’ve heard, sure.

But it fits the Wolverines, who have rocketed to 6-0 in the Big Ten and right into the College Football Playoffs conversation. They were good in 2015, Jim Harbaugh’s first season as coach, but they’ve clearly ascended to another level throughout the first two-plus months of the 2016 season.

There’ll be more on Michigan. More on specific players, angles and aspects. But for now, consider the following notes and analysis as an attempt to establish a proper baseline for further discussion.

Michigan is Fast

This past week — and after being asked about blazers Eddie McDoom, Jehu Chesson, Jabrill Peppers and others – Stan Edwards delivered a professor-like verbal essay on Michigan’s team speed. Nothing short of an expert, Edwards — who trained his son Braylon and several other high-end track/football stars — cited improved strides, coordination and choice of lanes/angles.

Basically, the fast guys have also been smart guys.

McDoom, a freshman, has shown promise, said Edwards, a former UM standout running back who played six years in the NFL. Once McDoom further masters body control, he’ll be quite dangerous.

Peppers ran a 3.77-second 40-yard dash during the Wolverines 32-23 win over Michigan State. Well, a segment of his 90-yard scoop-and-go was hammered out in 3.77 seconds. Elite runners can do that, said Edwards, who noted that Peppers had a decent start in the first place.

One year ago, Chesson was crowned as the team’s fastest player. The senior still has jets, but a lower-body injury may have influenced his top-end speed.

Freshman running back Chris Evans has wheels. So does freshman receiver Kekoa Crawford.

This past Saturday, following a 59-3 win over Maryland, Harbaugh was asked about redshirt junior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. At 6-foot-2 and 282 pounds, Hurst, who is fond of rubbing his belly after sacking a QB, has deceptive speed.

“He’s so light on his feet for a big guy, you know — it really shows up time and time again. He’s not a plodder. He’s a big guy, but he’s not a guy that’s a mudder… he’s got some real grace and agility for a big man… and he pursues runs. He keep showing up, game after game — I mean, there’s Mo Hurst making another play…”

They’re not all sonic-booms like Peppers, but the majority of the Wolverines have enough speed to get past their competitors. That goes for just about every position, and it shows throughout each of the three phases for Michigan.

Wolverines are Disciplined

Note on above video (warning: language): Regardless of score or timing, Harbaugh doesn’t tolerate easily avoidable mistakes/penalties. Saturday, right guard Kyle Kalis — a fifth-year senior — lost his cool versus Maryland. He was hit with a 15-yard personal foul call during the first quarter. 

In 2015, the Wolverines were penalized 87 times for 778 yards — roughly 59 yards per game — during their 13-game season. Twenty of the 87 penalties resulted in first downs.

Through nine games, they’ve been knocked 42 times for 409 yards — or roughly 45 yards per game. Sixteen of the 42 infractions have resulted in a first down. With that said, only 22 teams have averaged fewer penalty yards per game than the Wolverines. Despite six penalties for 62 yards versus Maryland, they’ve played some of the crispest and cleanest football of any team this season.

Efficient Execution

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight leads the Big Ten with a 158 passer rating. He’s led 80- and 90-yard scoring drives. The Wolverines scored on all but one possession Saturday versus the Terps. Speight, who’s thrown three picks this year, helps his team essentially move at will each and every time he’s on the field.

So it comes as no surprise that UM has the No. 15-ranked most-efficient passing offense in college football. It’s worth noting that Michigan has cooled the jets during the second half of several blowouts, only attempting a handful of passes during the third and fourth quarters.

Just some food for thought…

Michigan has shown a little aerial flashiness too, as evidenced by the above video.

At No. 4 in the country, the defense also ranks among the most-efficient units (per NCAA.com) in the game.

According to ESPN, Michigan has the most-efficient total package.

Even more efficient than Nick Saban’s machine at Alabama — which is right behind UM at No. 2 on ESPN’s efficiency chart.

Skill helps. So does coaching. Michigan has both.

However, pair skill and coaching with aspects such as speed, discipline and efficiency, and you’ll have a 9-0 team that’s shown no signs of weakening or veering off course.

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

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