For the fourth-straight week, Fox Sports found itself covering a Michigan football game, but for the first time this season, premier color commentator Joel Klatt was impressed.
The Wolverines played decent football in the three weeks prior, but when Penn State came to town for a top 10 battle of the undefeateds, it opened the eyes of many.
Klatt doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, he notes, given that he’s done that before, even earlier this season, but what he does now know is that what Jim Harbaugh has built in Ann Arbor was built specifically to beat the Buckeyes.
On his podcast, Klatt broke down the importance of the win and delved deeper into what he saw on Saturday.
“I’ll tell you what, that was a dominant, dominant performance from Michigan, a dominant performance from Michigan against a top 10 opponent, an opponent that came in with the fifth-ranked rushing defense in America and got absolutely taken to the shed,” Klatt said. “So the score ends up being, what was it? 41-17, something like that. 41-17, and not even close to indicative of the style of game that we saw on Saturday, not even close.
“Michigan dominated the game in every facet from jump street. And it was shocking when Penn State was even in the game in the second quarter. Shocking. They put up 418 yards rushing. Michigan did against a team that had given up all the 399 coming into the game in the season, right? And this was as dominant of a performance as I can remember in a top 10 game. And it’s going to be forgotten because as opposed to another conferences, we don’t remember and when it’s like, ‘Oh man, that was a top 10 matchup.’ That was an undefeated Penn State team that by the way. They don’t have bad wins on their resume. This is a team that has beaten Purdue on the road and Purdue’s leading the western side of the Big Ten. They went down and beat Auburn in Auburn by about the exact same score that Georgia beat Auburn in Athens. Right?
“So it’s like I’m looking at this and it’s like, I don’t want to overreact. OK, so I think it would be easy to overreact and just be like, ‘Man, Michigan is better. They’re on their way. You know, they’re the class of the Big Ten.’ And guess what? Ohio State should worry. It would be easy after a performance like that when you run 50 plays to the opponent’s 14 In the first half. It’s easy to go that direction. And when you’ve got Blake Corum doing what he’s doing and Donovan Edwards and when you got their pass rush in their defense doing what they’re doing, when you dominate a top 10 team like that. It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, man, they’re going to be great.’ The problem is not that far in my rearview mirror. I remember doing the same thing with Oklahoma after they beat Nebraska. And I’m not saying Penn State’s as bad as Nebraska, but I am saying that that Nebraska team that day clearly had a bad day. So did Penn State just have a bad day? I want to at least try to learn my lesson and not overreact with Michigan after Saturday, because it would be easy to, it would be very easy to.
”I do think that that’s a better offensive line than they had a year ago. And that was an offensive line a year ago that won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in college football. I think that they’re actually — and this is the one that’s going to be more controversial —they’re actually a better defensive line than last year, when you actually put it all together. They don’t have any one player as great as Aidan Hutchinson or maybe even David Ojabo, but they do as a whole interior — pass rush, the rotation at pass rush, the rotation in the middle. When you look at them as a complete defensive line, it’s actually a better defensive line than they had a year ago.
So that’s a really good team and they beat a team that I still think is actually pretty darn good. They just beat them up on Saturday. Penn State wasn’t even in the same class. They were to light up front and Michigan’s run game just ran over on like a Mack truck. And I think it definitely got the attention of Ohio State who was on a bye week. You know they’re watching and they’re watching that and they thought to themselves like, ‘OK, we’re about to see the same type of team that beat us last year, so we better buckle it up. We got a new defensive coordinator. He put the emphasis on toughness, we better buckle it up because we’re about to get the same style of team that beat us a year ago and won the division and won the Big Ten.’ And I think that that’s an important point because when we talk about Michigan, it’s always got to be through the lens of Ohio State. When we talk about Ohio State. It’s always got to be through the lens of Michigan, in particular after last year, and how do you win the division? How do you get to Indianapolis? And clearly it was Ohio State for a decade. It was a decade. But this is not the same Michigan team that Ohio State beat up on for a decade. It’s just not they’ve evolved with the same coach. They’ve evolved.
“I’ve really been a fan of this evolution of what I see now for Michigan. I just covered them for four straight weeks and I will tell you this: Jim Harbaugh learned some really valuable lessons as a head coach. And even with all of the success that he had had, I think he learned a couple of really valuable lessons in 2018 and 19. And then in the COVID year. Those three years were monumental and the direction that Michigan has now evolved as a program in 2018 and 19. Ohio State absolutely obliterated them, in particular, with their passing game and in particular with their speed. The schematics that they put on the field defensively, they were not up to par in order to stop Ohio State. And Ohio State put it on, 62 points in that 2018 game, 56 points in the 2019 game, almost 400 yards throwing the football in 2018, over 300 in 2019 like they were — just, it wasn’t really that close. And I remember watching and calling those games and thinking to myself, ‘Man, I don’t know when Michigan is going to beat them next. I really don’t.’ Then the COVID year happens and Michigan kind of falls off the face of the planet and has a has a terrible year.
“And I think Jim Harbaugh did something really profound during that time. And it was a lengthy offseason, obviously it was longer than they’ve had in a long time, obviously not going to a bowl game and with COVID and everything, right? And he changed a couple of things. He changed the schematics of how they were going to play, both offensively and defensively. And I think he changed really the culture and the chemistry of the organization, the program and both of those things have come to a fruition and make them a far different team than what they were prior when Ohio State was just beating up on them for a decade. This Buckeyes team that we see this year, they’re gonna have to deal with a very — to face Ohio State, they’ve changed. They’re more multiple on offense. They can run it with power and gap schemes and they can run zone, they can get under center, they can get into the shotgun, they can throw it efficiently with J.J. McCarthy basically being the country’s most accurate passer as far as completion percentage goes, they can play action pass. They can do all those things. They can get heavy and run it 20 straight times at you, they can throw it if they want — they can do a lot of things on offense, but it’s what they’ve done on the defensive side that I think it’s been most impressive.
“Their architecture on defense was basically, specifically to face Ohio State. They’re really good and big in the middle of their defensive line. Guys like Mazi Smith, all the other guys that rotate in there — Kris Jenkins, as well. There’s a bunch of 300-pounders in there. They build that run wall right up front. Then they’ve got good, long, athletic edge players that set hard edges and get after the quarterback, very NFL style. They’ve got hybrid athletic players at linebacker that do a great job tackling and they can cover in space, they’ve got the same type of player at safety, including the nickel with Mike Sainristil. So, they got three safeties that can all cover, they can all tackle in space, they get after it, and then they got to lock down corners. And coming into last week’s game, neither corner for Michigan was giving up all over 40% completions when targeted. That’s an NFL defense: hard on the edges, great cover players great pass rush, and then really stout in the middle with athletic and hybrid players on the back to level and a big run wall up front. That architecture was specifically to face Ohio State I believe, and their culture and chemistry has gotten so much better. And particularly with the winning that they enjoyed last year, that now that’s a team that Ohio State is going to have to reckon with.
“This is not just the Michigan team that you can go put up 55 points on anymore. They’re much, much different. The one thing that we don’t know about Michigan moving forward, and all Michigan fans are going to agree with me on this, is I just don’t know how good their quarterback is yet. And we may see a time in which J.J. McCarthy will be required to do what Hendon Hooker or Bryce Young did in the epic game with the Tennessee– Alabama showdown on Saturday —.which is you’ve got to carry your team. Caleb Williams and Cam Rising, Max Duggan — all these quarterbacks that I’m going to be talking about in today’s episode — at times, the team has to go on their shoulders and they’ve got to go win the game. Michigan, we haven’t seen that. Obviously, they’ve never been put in that position and last year really didn’t have that with Cade McNamara, never really put in that position until the Georgia game. And Georgia was just so far superior that it never materialized. And now we wonder the same thing with J.J. McCarthy. I wonder if he can go win a game if needed? I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I think he can. I think he’s really talented. He’s doing all the same things that (Cade) did as far as game management and protecting the football and doing things extra, like creating first downs with his legs, throwing it really efficiently. And I think it can get even better (if) the team can go on his back but
we just haven’t seen it yet.
“So that’s the one thing that I haven’t seen yet from Michigan and, oh, there’s one little last thing, Michigan — you better start beating Michigan State, because that’s not going away until you do. Mel Tucker gets there, they beat them in the COVID year, they beat them last year. And if Michigan wants to kind of put that to bed, they better go beat Michigan State here in a couple of weeks.”
Michigan is off on bye this week with MSU coming up in Week 9.
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Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards lead this week’s top performers.
Spot on. #GoBlue
These look amazing! #GoBlue
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