Michigan Football: 5 Takeaways from the First Half of 2016
The Michigan football team is off to a good start in 2016. Here are five takeaways from the first half of the season.
There are a lot of things to take away from the first six games of the Michigan football season. Yet, the most obvious, is that the Wolverines are good — I mean really good.
I have been following Michigan football for over 20 years. And truthfully, the only Wolverines team that compares to this one so far is the 1997 team, the last Michigan team to win a National Championship.
This Wolverine squad may not share that same fate. But make no mistake, they are just as good and just as talented.
Jabrill Peppers is having a season for the ages. The defense, in my opinion, is on par with that 97 group and the offense is playing at a high level.
The big question coming into the season was at quarterback. Yet, after six games, Michigan fans are getting comfortable with Wilton Speight. He’s not a superstar, but he’s solid and he has UM at 6-0.
Certainly, the Wolverines have many challenges ahead. If they want to win the Big Ten or even the Big Ten East, their first challenge is toppling Ohio State — which will prove to be this team’s ultimate challenge.
Winning or losing that game could be the difference between playing in the CFB Playoff or in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
But before we look too far ahead, let’s take a look back at what we’ve learned over the Wolverines first six games.
Jabrill Peppers reminds of Charles Woodson
Outside of Michigan’s overall dominance as a team, by far the biggest story through the first six games has been Peppers.
We all knew how dynamic Peppers was before the season, so really, we shouldn’t be surprised by what he’s doing.
Yet, week after week, game after game, he continues to wow you.
As a linebacker, he’s been lights out. He has 35 tackles, 10 TFL and two sacks. His ability to blitz and wreak havoc in the backfield has been off the charts and he is undoubtedly, going to be a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
In truth, no player since Charles Woodson, has done the things that Peppers is doing. The two are especially similar when it comes to dominating all three phases of the game,
Woodson did that, now Peppers is following in his footsteps. Five rushes for 98 yards and two touchdowns on offense, as well as a punt return TD and average of 17.8 yards per return are reasons why Peppers is generating so much Heisman talk.
Who knows if he can repeat the feats of Woodson, but so far, he’s off to a good start.
The defense looks to be championship caliber
It doesn’t take a genius to look at Michigan’s first six games and come away with the thought that the Wolverines defense is dominant.
But, when you delve deep into the numbers, it’s hard not to call Michigan football’s defense the best in the country.
Michigan currently leads the nation in both total defense (212 YPG allowed) and scoring defense after giving opponents just 10.4 points per game.
Michigan ranks 13th in the nation against the run, while at the same time, having the 3rd-best pass efficiency defense.
The Wolverines also ranked second in FBS in sacks and tackles for loss. And, last but not least, UM is allowing teams to convert on third down, just 12 percent of the time, which also leads the FBS.
Having Peppers obviously helps the defense, but with incredible depth, NFL talent and playmakers at all three levels, this group may be good enough to do what was done 19 years ago.
Deliver a national championship.
Speight has been as good as advertised, maybe better
Coming into the 2016 season, the biggest question facing Michigan football was who would be the starting quarterback and would he be any good?
Speight answered the first question after a solid fall camp. He came out of spring football as the starter and maintained that position, despite a strong challenge from John O’Korn.
And like it seemingly always does for Jim Harbaugh, it would out perfectly.
Don’t get me wrong, Speight has been far from flawless. He’s struggled at times, especially in the first half against Colorado and at times against Wisconsin.
Yet, when called upon in big moments, Speight has delivered.
For the season, the redshirt sophomore, has 61.4 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdowns, compared to just two interceptions.
On a team that is as good as Michigan, your quarterback just needs to take care of the football and make plays in key spots, which is exactly what he’s done.
All in all, while Speight may not be a star, it’s safe to say, quarterback is no longer a question mark.
Freshman like Chris Evans and Rashan Gary have made immediate contributions
As talented as this year’s Michigan football team is, it was hard to see where freshman were going to make an impact.
The Wolverines are loaded across the board and on both sides of the ball. Yet, even so, some talented freshman have found a way to make an impact.
Maybe no newcomer has done more this season than running back Chris Evans, who is the team’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 400 yards.
The youngster is averaging a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns, including one from 43 yards out in his very first UM game.
However, Evans isn’t the only big-time freshman on the roster, as Rashan Gary, the nation’s top recruit in 2016, is also making his presence felt.
Gary, who has seen significant snaps at the defensive end from the get-go, has 16 total tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack.
Gary is a big guy, but his burst around the edge has been impressive, while his ability to stuff the run, falls right in line with the rest of his fellows on a tremendous defensive line.
There is no doubt, this is Michigan’s best team since 1997
Harbaugh came to Michigan to restore the Wolverines to greatness and he has done it in just two years.
Obviously, the Wolverines has work to do, in order to achieve what the 1997 team did, but the point is, they have a legitimate chance.
The defense is incredible and as last Saturday’s 78-0 nothing win showed, its nasty and mean. (Poor Rutgers).
The amount of NFL talent on this Michigan team is insane. Get ready to hear Michigan guys go early and often this April.
Jake Butt, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are all sure to be drafted. Others like Speight, Ben Gideon and Mike McCray are all improving their stock rapidly as well.
The talent is there; the coaching is there; the problem this season, might just be the schedule.
Road games at Michigan State and Iowa will be challenging and the final game against Ohio State, also on the road, will be define the season.
Ultimately, the Wolverines may fall short of winning a national championship or a Big Ten title, but that won’t change the fact that this is Michigan’s best team in years.
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