In a matter of a week, Michigan went from having an in-sync offense with a poised first-year starting quarterback, receivers aplenty, and a robust run game, to a lackluster performance and an inability to counter what was thrown at the Wolverines defensively.
The Wolverines got that win at Minnesota in the season opener, but a week later suffered a glaring setback in a 27-24 loss to in-state rival Michigan State, a three-touchdown underdog.
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, hailed after the opener for an innovative game plan that put quarterback Joe Milton at ease running the show and sharing the ball among receivers and running backs, shouldered the blame for the ineffectiveness of the offense against Michigan State. Michigan had 152 yards rushing, after gaining 256 yards, averaging 8.3 yards a carry and and scoring five rushing touchdowns against Minnesota. The Wolverines averaged 4.5 a carry against MSU.
Milton threw for 300 yards against the Spartans, who took away the deep routes and limited his options. Michigan did not have a passing touchdown.
Gattis appeared Tuesday on the “Stoney & Jansen” show on 97.1 The Ticket and said the finger should be pointed at him for the offense stalling last Saturday in the home opener.
“I did not think that our preparation was up to par, up to the standard that we need it to be, and that falls on me,” Gattis told show hosts Mike Stone and Jon Jansen. “That’s my job as the coordinator to make sure that we’re getting the very best out of our young men and we’re demanding the very best, and I’ve got to do the best job to put them in positions to be successful.”
He suggested the inexperience of the offense was exposed. Obviously, Milton is a first-time starter at quarterback and Michigan replaced four starters on the offensive line, with two first-time starters, center Andrew Vastardis and left guard Chuck Filiaga. Jalen Mayfield at right tackle was the only returning starter, while left tackle Ryan Hayes and right guard Andrew Stueber had combined for less than a handful of starts before this season. Running back is the most experienced position group on offense, and the receiving corps is a mix of returners who saw significant playing time last year and a couple of receivers who are getting on the field for the first time.
“The biggest adjustment in Week 2 was getting used to a normal practice plan where you only have three to four days to prepare for an opponent, as compared to two or three weeks that you have leading up to your first game,” Gattis said. “I think the challenge for our guys on offense, we’ve got a lot of inexperienced players, a lot of first-time players that they’ve got to be able to handle success, they’ve got to be able to prepare in three to four days for their next opponent in a normal game week.”
Michigan, which dropped to No. 23 in the AP poll, is now preparing to face No. 13 Indiana (2-0) in Bloomington. That’s the highest ranking for the Hoosiers since 1987. Indiana has taken Michigan to overtime in two of the last three meetings at Memorial Stadium — Michigan won 48-41 in double overtime in 2015 and 27-20 in OT in 2017.
Gattis said since the Michigan State game, he has been looking for the “disconnect”. He saw it in the Wolverines’ final drive of the game. When they needed to execute a two-minute drive to cut the Spartans’ 27-17 lead with 5:11 left, the Wolverines scored after an 18-play, 93-yard drive that used 4:35 off the clock. That was anything but efficient and, Gattis said, perhaps another indication of the inexperience.
“That two-minute drive was obviously disappointing on our end,” Gattis said. “It was a learning lesson for our offense because we take tremendous pride in being prepared in situational football. We do two-minute, I believe, more than anyone in the country. Whenever you’re in a two-minute scenario you’re battling against the clock, so you gotta do a great job of getting first downs but also getting out of bounds.
“That was a teaching moment.”
Back-to-back wildcat plays late in the first half after Michigan, trailing 14-7, reached the MSU 6-yard line, have also drawn criticism. Milton had run five yards to the put Michigan in that position, then Gattis called for running back Hassan Haskins to take the direct snap. He gained a yard. The next wildcat play with Haskins was broken up and nearly intercepted in the end zone.
“The first wildcat, ran the same play we scored the previous week out of the same formation,” Gattis said. “We just had a mental mistake by a blocker up front. If not, it would have been a walk-in score just like it was from the same down and distance the week before.
“Then the second play, obviously in any type of situations as a play-caller, any time you use some type of trick play or whatever it may be, it’s genius when it works, it’s dumb of you when it doesn’t. Obviously the play was open, there’s no blame to go there. That’s on me. That’s a critical call in a critical situation and I accept the results. Had it worked it would have been a brilliant play call. It didn’t work so it’s a dumb play call.”
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