Joel Klatt: ‘It’s put up or shut up time for the Michigan Wolverines’

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Saturday marked Fox Sports color analyst Joel Klatt’s second time this season viewing Michigan football, and he’s not sure that it provided much in terms of answers for the Wolverines.

Before the season, in a WolverinesWire exclusive, Klatt shared what the maize and blue needed to do to reach 10 wins, and so far, they have done everything that he’s said. But that doesn’t mean that it’ll continue.

Taking a look after the game against Northwestern at what Michigan did, Klatt says that it was par for the course, and that the Wolverines continued to put on tape that which it has done up until this point.

“I don’t think we really learned anything new about Michigan,” Klatt said. “The things that we knew they were strong at, they continued to dominate with. And the things where we had some question marks, those questions remain. Let’s walk through them.

“Let’s start with the run game. Their run game is sensational. It’s the best run game in the Big Ten right now. Their two-headed running back monster between Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins is special. They’ve got the rare combination where they can put somebody in to hit the home run in Blake Corum, but he’s also got power. They can put somebody in in the short yardage, in the power situations like Hassan Haskins, but he also has wiggle and can create explosive plays. It’s a great combination and their offensive line has done a tremendous job up front. They had a great day up front providing holes for those two guys. Ultimately, that’s really all they needed. Anything from the passing game today was just window dressing. And remember: Northwestern came in with the worst run defense in the Big Ten, so this was not a surprise. They dominated on the ground, as they should.


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“Now, the passing game. We have seen, at times, the passing game come alive. Against Wisconsin, in a game in which they needed to throw the ball down the field, they were able to. They got the flea flicker touchdown to Cornelius Johnson, they throw a long touchdown to Daylen Baldwin down the sideline. We didn’t see those explosive pass plays today. They were unable to get them against that Northwestern defense. Cade McNamara is consistent. He doesn’t turn the football over. He gives them the best chance to win. But there’s a ceiling on that offense at that point. They need to find somebody special on the outside who can take the offense above the X’s and O’s. They haven’t had that since Ronnie Bell left this lineup with an injury against Western Michigan.

“So, that’s a huge question mark, because going down the back end of this season — going against Michigan State next week or Penn State or Ohio State, a number of these games — what they’re gonna have to do is throw the football. Somebody’s gonna take away their ability to run the ball, similar to what Wisconsin did. Now, the commitment to it will help, because you can get to play action pass. But at some point, they’re gonna have to make plays in the passing game. This is why J.J. McCarthy has been brought along during the course of the season. At that moment, you have answers, and if Cade (McNamara) is not the guy to provide the answer, you’re gonna have to insert McCarthy into the lineup. Whether they do that or not remains to be seen, but at least they have the options. Offensively, we’ll see if they have to go that direction here in November or even next week on Halloween weekend against in-state rival Michigan State.

“On the defensive side, really only they struggle with one thing, and that’s, at times, they can lose their focus and eye discipline and let somebody loose for a big play. We’ve seen a couple of those over the past few weeks, they gave up a long touchdown to Nebraska (and) they gave up another long touchdown today. If they’re making you drive down the field and earn it, they’re an excellent defense. They can get off the field on third down with their pass rush. Aidan Hutchinson’s terrific, Josh Ross is terrific, Daxton Hill makes plays, Brad Hawkins makes plays, DJ Turner with an absolutely fantastic interception on the outside. This is a very good defense as long as they maintain their disciple and eye discipline. Get lined up where you’re supposed to and look at the key you’re supposed to look at. If you get caught either misaligned, missed assignment, or look at the wrong thing, a big play will happen.

Klatt continued, noting that if Michigan does need to figure out something in terms of the passing game, if McNamara isn’t the answer, perhaps J.J. McCarthy could come in and provide a spark. He’s not saying that is the answer, but that the Wolverines do have more in terms of solutions than they’ve had in previous years, should something stall out.

“So that’s what the equation is gonna be moving forward for Michigan?” Klatt said. “Everybody asks me, is this the year? Is this Jim Harbaugh’s best team? I’m not sure! I’m not sure. I will tell you this: this team has more answers when you take away their first option than they’ve had in previous years. Michigan has potentially the option to go to J.J. McCarthy if they need it. They have the option to run man or zone in the backend if you’re beating their man coverage. They can get to the quarterback with the pass rush, they can stop the run. A high volume of things on defense with new coordinator Mike Macdonald.

“We’ll see if they need to have those answers moving into November, and we’ll see if those answers provide them the ability to win some of those games, we’ll see. I’m not sure. It’s too many years I’ve sat here and said, ‘Hey, this is Michigan’s best team and Harbaugh’s best team,’ this or that. Proof is in the pudding. They didn’t hire Jim Harbaugh to be 7-0. This has been a very good year so far, and now it’s put up or shut up for the Michigan Wolverines and we’ll see they play down the stretch, starting next week in East Lansing, a game that Gus and I and Jenny will be at, Big Noon Kickoff will be at. This is gonna be the biggest game in college football next weekend. Undefeated Michigan, undefeated Michigan State, both 7-0. This matchup has never featured both of these teams at 7-0 or more. It’s gonna be phenomenal folks, I can’t wait.”

Klatt will be back on the call with Gus Johnson next week as Michigan and MSU kick off at noon EDT at Spartan Stadium.


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