As the Wolverines prepare to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Tampa, there are lots of moving parts that will greatly affect the 2018 team, so here is what I’d like to see:
#1 – Will the real Brandon Peters step up?
With the commitment of former 2016 #1-rated QB Shea Patterson of Ole Miss and the likelihood that he will be granted a waiver so he doesn’t have to sit out a year, the QB competition just became the hot topic for the upcoming year. Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone are both transferring which left the QB depth at Brandon Peters, Dylan McCaffrey (who is redshirting) and two incoming QB recruits (Joe Milton and Kevin Doyle). The addition of Patterson into the mix will make the three weeks of bowl-prep and Outback Bowl game results for Brandon Peters could go a long way in determining who is under center for the Wolverines. Peters started three games after relieving O’Korn in the Rutgers game and while he played well, the playbook seemed limited and with the exception of the Wisconsin game, the opponents were below-par. South Carolina will provide a good challenge for this team but if we’re going to see what the future has in store, Harbaugh and the coaches need to open up the playbook and see what the kid has. I don’t want to see 15 pass attempts for 86 yards and a TD. That kind of game will not get it done with road games in South Bend, East Lansing and Columbus next year. We need a dynamic leader at QB and at this point, I haven’t seen that kind of fire from Peters. Perhaps that’s the way the game plans were set up but it needs to change to see what we truly have in this kid. spring ball with Patterson, Peters, and McCaffrey (plus Milton who will be an early-enrollee) will also tell us a lot.
#2 – Can the defense sustain an effort for 4 quarters?
Don’t get me wrong, I think our defense was fantastic for the most part, especially when you consider replacing ten starters but in three of our four biggest games (all losses), with the exception of the MSU game, they played well for about two quarters and they gave up big plays and huge chunks of yardage. While the front seven has been outstanding, our secondary needs better protection and I’m not sure if that’s because of the aggressive schemes of Don Brown’s defense which put CB’s in a lot of press-man coverage or just another part of being SO young at every position. The possible addition of Old Miss transfer Deontay Anderson at safety (he visited with Patterson but hasn’t decided yet) would be huge and add depth and experience in the secondary but another year of experience under their belts with four more weeks of bowl practice time will be great for the learning process. South Carolina QB Jake Bentley threw for over 2,500 yards and 16 TD’s and with a large SEC-tested offensive line, the defense will face a stiff test and possibly lay the groundwork for next season.
#3 – Will the Wide Receivers finally stretch the field?
As the season started, there were high expectations with Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Nico Collins coming in as one of the best WR recruiting classes ever. While Black started out strong, an injury in the Air Force game cut his season short and with all the struggles at QB, it wasn’t until late in the season when we started seeing flashes from DPJ. Nico Collins had a single reception at Rutgers and nothing else. Word around Ann Arbor is Black will be available for the Bowl Game and while some may want him to sit it out and possibly take a medical-redshirt, I think it is unlikely he will stay aUM for five years so why not play him in the bowl game and as I stated in the QB section of this article, open the playbook up and try to stretch the field and see what we really have at the WR position for next year? Patterson has been termed a “gunslinger” with the ability to make all of the NFL throws so if this group of WR’s is that talented, let’s see what they got on the field NOW against a solid SEC defense and get them ready for next year. The entire WR crew returns (with the exception of Drake Harris and Moe Ways who both transferred) so there is no better time than in this bowl game to “release the hounds” and see what we got.
Unlike a lot of people on the different message-boards, I am SUPER excited at the prospect of bringing Shea Patterson on board as it solidifies our depth at the QB position and according to all of the analysts, makes UM a contender for next year. This bowl game and the performance of this team will go a long way towards setting those expectations.