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Michigan’s offensive struggles continue; ‘We don’t have an identity’

Posted: 6:42 PM, Sep 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-21 18:43:13-04

MADISON, Wis. — Michigan’s offense is still a work-in-progress after suffering a crushing loss Saturday at Wisconsin.

The Wolverines have a first-year offensive play-caller in Josh Gattis and installed a new offense over the offseason. They are working in a run-pass option system and getting away from the pro-style system head coach Jim Harbaugh has traditionally had.

Senior tight end Nick Eubanks said the team is still finding its rhythm with the RPO and its identity as a football team.

“I think of it as a whole group, we don’t have an identity yet. It’s up to us to find our identity even though we got a game coming up next Saturday,” he said.

Eubanks said the team understands the system but still has things to work on.

“We’re not doing too bad in terms of the RPO scheme, running that type of offense, that’s something that’s not easy to be accustomed to right away,” he said. “We’ve been doing a great job, but we need to capitalize (on opportunities) more in terms of the offense.”

In the first half of Saturday’s 35-14 loss at Wisconsin, the Wolverines threw on 15-of-22 plays and never established a rushing attack. The first of those plays was a 68-yard pass to sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell, but the next 14 attempts resulted in 19 yards and an interception.

Michigan ran the ball seven times for 9 yards in the first half. Junior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, who entered the game late in the second quarter, was the team’s leading rusher at halftime with 9 yards on one attempt.

The Wolverines finished with 40 yards rushing — the fewest since having -21 yards against Nebraska in 2013.

Eubanks thought the lack of a threat on the ground contributed to the issues moving the ball through the air.

“Big time. Big time. That’s one thing we went away from that I wish we would have stayed with,” Eubanks said.

Things didn’t turn around for the offense until the third quarter when McCaffrey took over quarterback duties for starter Shea Patterson after halftime.

McCaffrey used his legs and made a couple throws to move the ball down the field midway through the third quarter. The drive was also helped by two Wisconsin targeting penalties on hits on McCaffrey, which knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

Patterson re-entered and finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass. He remained at quarterback through most of the fourth quarter and started finding receivers for significant gains.

On the Wolverines second touchdown drive in the fourth, Patterson took more shots downfield and completed passes of 36, 21,11 and 32 yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones would eventually catch his first touchdown of the season at the end of the drive.

Harbaugh didn’t say what he thought led to the sudden success throwing.

“Made some plays downfield, both Nico (Collins) and Tarik (Black), Shea got the ball — we threw some deep balls and made some plays. Guys kept fighting,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh’s response to what he wants his offense’s identity to be was, “to be able to run the ball, be able to throw the ball both equally, effective and efficient.”

When asked if there was anything to sort out with play-calling, Harbaugh said no and that it is a team effort on both sides of the ball.

Eubanks said the team needs to focus on the little things.

“We’re not that far. We’re there, but we’re not where we want to be,” he said. “It’s a trouble, it’s like a hassle with it right now, we just got to find those tunes and tune in to that detail, and we’ll be flowing.”