It has been a very disappointing season for Michigan football so far this year, but there’s a lot of young talent to look forward to in the coming years. Whether the struggling coaching staff will be able to develop and execute with this talent, or even be there much longer, are two different questions, but the talent will be there nonetheless.
The first player Michigan fans should be excited about is Joe Milton. While he hasn’t played great in his first year as a starter so far, you can see the potential that he has. Measuring in at a massive 6 feet 5 inches and 243 pounds, he is very hard to bring down. He also has great speed for someone his size and, unlike many “dual-threat” quarterbacks, he is a very patient runner, not just using his speed, but following his blockers and waiting for the hole to open up before making his move. Milton has excellent poise in the pocket as well, and rarely shows signs of nervousness when playing, unlike his predecessor, Shea Patterson.
There are some things Milton can improve upon, however. One of these is his deep ball accuracy. He is said to be able to throw the ball 80 yards downfield, 70 accurately, but he has overthrown a lot of these deep balls to receivers. Even some short throws he struggles to complete. Another negative from Milton so far is his reads on option plays. Michigan runs a lot of “RPO” or run-pass option, which requires a quarterback who can read the defense quickly and decide which option to take in the play. Although it’s not a huge deal, Milton has made the wrong decision on these types of plays quite a few times.
Joe Milton is a redshirt sophomore, and could technically start at Michigan for four years, this season not counting towards eligibility because of COVID, but with his talent he could end up leaving early for the NFL draft before finishing his college career. The post-Milton QB situation is promising as well, with incoming 5-star J.J. McCarthy, who is the 18th-ranked player in the nation for his 2021 class according to 247Sports, and redshirt freshman Cade McNamara backing up Milton right now.
Daxton Hill, the former 5-star who Michigan flipped from Alabama, has shown out in his sophomore year. Maybe the most talented player on Michigan’s roster, Hill has been playing a mix of safety and cornerback through the first three games, but he’s had the most success at corner, and with Vincent Gray having some trouble so far, some fans think he should be moved to cornerback to help out with the pass defense.
Hill is near the top of the team in both total and solo tackles and sticks out as a great player in Michigan’s weak secondary. He’s broken up a few passes along the way, including a diving swat in the end zone to break up a touchdown against Indiana. Dax may not be around for much longer however, as he is an NFL-caliber player, and could possibly even leave for the draft after this season, depending on how it all pans out.
Last year, Josh Gattis’ first year as offensive coordinator, Wolverine fans didn’t see as much of the promised “Speed in Space” offense, getting fast players the ball in their hands with room to make something happen, as they expected, mainly due to an unfit wide receiver personnel. Nico Collins, Tarik Black, and Donovan Peoples-Jones were big deep ball threats, and even though they could make guys miss, throwing 3-5 yard passes to them and letting them do the rest wouldn’t make sense when you could lob it up 30 yards downfield and, more often than not, they’d catch it.
But now, those 3 guys are gone, bringing in a new group. True freshmen Roman Wilson and AJ Henning, and sophomores Giles Jackson, Mike Sainristil, and Cornelius Johnson are the ideal “Speed in Space” receivers, and with plenty of time left for them in college, the Josh Gattis offense has serious potential in the coming years.
Maybe the most impressive of the five so far is Roman Wilson, racking up 8 catches for 118 yards so far. Running an incredibly quick 4.37 40-yard dash, he’s one of the fastest players on the team, perhaps even in the conference, and he’s done everything right so far. Giles Jackson, second on the team in catches who also returns kicks and punts for the Wolverines, has also had a nice year receiving, but his tendency to always go for the big play instead of taking what’s there can sometimes end up in negative plays, or blown opportunities. For example, on one play in the humiliating Michigan State loss, Giles went all the way back into his own end zone to return a punt, instead of letting it bounce for a touchback while being chased by Spartan defenders. By some stroke of luck, he somehow made it to the 30, but these types of decisions will end up hurting the team more often than they help.
Henning, Sainristil, and Johnson have all played solid this season too, although in more limited time than Jackson, Wilson, and senior Ronnie Bell. Cornelius Johnson had a tough catch for a long touchdown against Indiana, on a play that showed a flash of both Milton and Johnson’s potential. Henning and Sainristil have held their own.
One thing that Michigan lacks is a deep ball threat, like Peoples-Jones or Collins in past years. Johnson is their only receiver over 6 feet and could become that guy in the future, but he’s not there right now. Two 4-star receivers are headed to Ann Arbor for next season, and hopefully they will be able to contribute to Michigan’s talented offense.
In a system of four rotating running backs, Blake Corum has shown that he is maybe the best option, in his freshman year. From his first career play at Michigan, a screen pass that went for 24 yards, his talent was put on display, and he’s continued to impress throughout the season.
Though his stats aren’t very impressive, averaging only 2 yards a carry on 19 touches, the inexperienced offensive line is more to blame for this than Corum. When he gets in open space, he makes plays, and that’s exactly what you want in a running back. He’s also been of use in the passing game, with 4 receptions this year. It may be easy to be skeptical of him based on his stat line, but keep in mind that he’s sharing time with 3 other players at his position, and is still a true freshman with plenty of time to improve.
Even with the disappointing start, there are still plenty of things to be excited about as a Michigan fan.