Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton, David Long, Bryan Mone, Drake Johnson are all questionable.
Noah Furbush is doubtful.
Kareem Walker is out due to an academic issue.
What do all these injuries mean? In the grand scheme of things, they really don't mean much. None of them seem to be season-ending. I like to think that the coaches have been extra cautious. There is no reason to rush a player in to "knock off the rust off", especially any All-Americans. That would be ludicrous. It's a long season. We need those guys later in the year and we were able to get by Hawaii, UCF, and Colorado just fine without them.
The offense has shown a level of proficiency that we have not seen in a very long time, particularly in the passing game. QB Wilton Speight has proven to possess very good patience and awareness in the pocket, hitting on 64% of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt, eight TD's, and only one INT. Though he did look shaky in the first half against a fired up Colorado defense, he settled down and helped the offense put up 37 points on the board.
Say what you want about the level of talent on the Buff's roster, that defense looks like it could be a formidable unit in the Pac-12 this year. They currently rank 4th in the country in yards allowed. Cheers to the offense for figuring out how to beat them.
Speaking of beatings, De'Veon Smith is quietly having a great start to the season. The guy has split carries with Chris Evans, Ty Issac, Karan Higdon, and Kahlid Hill, but he has provided some signature highlight plays that epitomize exactly what his game is all about. Despite a light work-load of just 27 carries in three games, Smith has averaged 5.6 yards per rush. He delivered a beautiful 42 yard TD run to help seal the win in the second half against the Buffs. Look for his production to improve in regards to yards and TD's, especially if defenses start respecting the passing game a little more. Smith has sustained lower body injuries the last two years. There is hope that with more rest early in the season that he will be more effective deeper in the conference schedule.
Speaking of the passing game, All-American tight end Jake Butt and wide-outs Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Grant Perry have all lived up to their billing as potential All-Conference players this season. Nobody has been able to contain this group since last November. Collectively, they are averaging 204 yards per game and 2.5 TD's per game over the course of their last four games, dating back to the Citrus Bowl win over the Gators on New Year's Day.
The one thorn some fans and talking heads have festering in their sides is in regards to the offensive line. It has been expressed that they don't look physical enough, particularly in the run-game. They have also allowed five sacks. However, I see no need to worry. The unit has done a very good job adjusting to everything that has been thrown at them. It was obvious that UCF and Colorado were committed to stopping the run. Both teams attempted to clog up running lanes with eight, and even nine defenders, and utilizing stunts and run-blitzes to attack the line of scrimmage. There has just been very little room to run over the last three games, so the offense has had to take advantage of the mismatches downfield. Overall, the offensive line has been solidly doing their job. It's hard to argue against me when you consider that the Wolverines average margin of victory over their last four opponents - Florida, Hawaii, UCF, and Colorado - is a whopping 37 points, and the run-game has averaged 204.5 rushing yards and nearly three (2.75) rushing TD's per game in that same stretch. And despite all the odds, the Wolverines are currently averaging 4.9 yards per carry as a team thus far on the season. Those are not the statistics of a terrible offensive line. This unit should be a strength moving forward into the season, especially during the team's busy road schedule in the later portion of the schedule.
Some of the early offensive standouts include:
- WR Amara Darboh - Averaging 20.4 yards per catch on 10 receptions; has 4 receiving TD's
- TE Jake Butt - Averaging 5 receptions and one TD per game; has 192 yards; has been wide open a lot on underneath crossing routes
- RB Chris Evans - Averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 21 attempts; leads the team with 157 yards rushing; has 2 rushing TD's
- RB De'Veon Smith - (see above)
- FB Kahlid Hill - 3 rushing TD's; provided not one but TWO key blocks on Smith's 42 yard TD run last Saturday
- QB Wilton Speight - Averaging 229 passing yards per game while only playing 3/4 of each game; has 8 TD's to only one INT; has completed 51 straight passes without an INT (his first pass attempt of the season was the only INT)
- RB Karan Higdon - Is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 4 attempts per game; has one TD
- WR Eddie McDoom - Is averaging 11 yards per carry while running reverses (5 attempts)
Well, first things first here, let's start with the obvious: Jabrill Peppers is indeed the real-deal-Holyfield. He is currently ranked 1st in the nation in tackles for a loss with 9.5 to his credit. He is also 4th in the nation in punt returns, with 21.6 yards per return. He actually beats every other player ranked in the top 10 by two more total returns. The next closest is six. The three players ranked ahead of him in terms of average yards per return have a much smaller sample with only 16 total returns between them all. Jabrill has half that by himself. That tells me that the Wolverine defense is doing its job. They are forcing teams to punt and therefore putting Peppers in a position to make a play. This could very well be a real problem for opponents all year long. Oh, and Peppers also has a TD on a punt return already this year, as well as 24 yards on only two carries on offense. The guy is dangerous in all phases of the game. And anybody worried about him getting worn down might want to consider the fact that the defense overall is currently ranked #1 in the nation on third down, allowing only a 10.5% conversion rate. They are also #1 in the red zone having only allowed opponents three total trips down down there and only giving up one score. They are also #3 in total tackles for a loss with 31 and are tied for 10th in the nation in sacks (11). Those are great numbers.
Some early standouts have been:
- LB/S Jabrill Pepeprs - (see above)
- LB Mike McCray II - Tied for 3rd in the conference in sacks (2.5); tied for 9th in the entire nation in tackles for a loss (4.5); has a forced fumble; #3 in conference with 3 passes defended
- LB Ben Gedeon - 2nd on the team and 4th in the conference in tackles (25); 8th in the conference in tackles for a loss (4); 2 sacks
- DL Rashan Gary - The Freshman All-American candidate is averaging 4 tackles per game; has 3.5 tackles for a loss and a half sack - he is everything he was said to have been as the #1 recruit coming out of high school.
- DE Chase Winovich - 2 tackles for a loss; 4th on the team with 1.5 sacks; 3 QB hurries; one forced fumble - outstanding work for the "dude" filling in while Taco Charlton is out.
- DL Chris Wormley - 9 tackles; 1.5 tackles for a loss; one sack; blocked two field goal attempts
McCray has proven to be quite an asset - just as I predicted. Let's see if you can hold up to an entire season of grinding on Saturdays after missing the entire season last year.
At any rate, I thought the defense looked impressive, especially considering that three possible starters haven't played at all the last two weeks. Of course, those players are DT Bryan Mone, DE Taco Charlton, and All-American CB Jourdan Lewis. Lewis has yet to take a snap this season. You may have heard of these guys. Yeah, let's talk about the defense in November after these guys have all played together for a while at full strength. However, give some credit to both Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark for holding down the fort on the perimeter while Lewis was out. Pro Football Focus has them rated as the top two corners in the Big Ten right now. Both guys will probably get drafted. At any rate, it's fair to say that our coverage of the back end of the field will improve with Lewis back in the fold too.
When its all said and done, this could very well be the best defensive unit in the country.