Michigan Wolverines College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season
Michigan Wolverines Biggest Key: Offense
Start converting on third downs already. It’s been a big, big issue over the last two seasons after converting 49% of the time in 2018. Just when it seemed like the offense fixed the glitch – the 2017 offense had a rough time keeping things moving – third downs were a struggle in 2019.
The 2020 offense looked like it had it. It ripped through Minnesota to start the season, and even with all of the issues in the loss to Michigan State, the offense was able to keep drives going. And then it all fizzled out, failing to hit 40% in any of the last four games and 30% in two of those.
It put too much stress on the defense, the offense almost never had the ball, and it was impossible to find any sort of a rhythm.
Asking for 45% isn’t crazy. The Wolverines have won their last 12 games when getting to the mark going back to the weird opening loss to Notre Dame to start 2018.
And on the other side …
Michigan Wolverines Biggest Key: Defense
Third down stops. It all ties together. The offense couldn’t go on long marches, the team constantly got murdered in the time of possession battle, the defense couldn’t generate enough of a pass rush or takeaways, and everything just fell apart from there.
For all the things you might not like about the Harbaugh era, his defenses have generally been a force on third downs. The 2015 through 2017 defenses were brick walls on the money downs – allowing under 30% in all three seasons – and the 2018 and 2019 versions weren’t that bad keeping offenses to under 35%. 2020?
Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn State kept on hitting third down after third down. Stop that from happening, and start winning again.
That, and …
Michigan Wolverines Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Cade McNamara, Jr.
Michigan has to get good quarterback play. That’s basically it. That’s why the Jim Harbaugh era has been underwhelming – it’s been better than you think, but it obviously hasn’t lived up to expectations partly because he just can’t seem to get this right.
Since Harbaugh took over, Ohio State has had Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins, JT Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller.
Joe Milton, Shea Patterson, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, Wilton Speight and Jake Rudock.
It doesn’t have to be McNamara. Former star recruit JJ McCarthy will do, or Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman. No matter what, the team just needs to have an advantage at the position.
Michigan Wolverines Key Game To The 2021 Season
Washington, Sept. 11
The Ohio State game is more than two months after this. Realistically, for that to truly matter – beyond the outsized importance it already has – the Wolverines have to set an early tone. As lame a cliché as that might be, it fits after the rough 2020.
Washington is good enough to win the Pac-12 title. It’s a restaurant-quality non-conference home game for a Wolverine program that – at least in theory – is supposed to be good enough to be within sniffing distance of the College Football Playoff. Forget about that with a loss.
The pressure will never be off of Harbaugh, but lose this, and with road games against Wisconsin and Penn State looming in the Big Ten season, the margin for error goes down to nil.
2020 Michigan Wolverines Fun Stats
– Time of Possession: Opponents 34:23 – Opponents 25:37
– Field Goals: Opponents 8-of-11 – Michigan 3-of-9
– 1st Half Scoring: Opponents 117 – Michigan 66