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Nick Baumgardner | September 16, 2018

Michigan football: Wolverines' weaknesses unsolved as Big Ten play approaches

Call it sleepy if you'd like. Or maybe call it something else.

But two weeks after a season-opening loss that raised questions about whether or not Michigan's offense — specifically its front — would be capable of doing what's necessary against top teams this season, the situation seems unchanged.

Michigan fought through winless SMU on Saturday, 45-20, but did so with the type of sluggish offensive line showing that was absent a week ago during a romp against overwhelmed Western Michigan.

Sloppy play happens in college football, especially in games like this. It played without starting running back Karan Higdon, who dressed but didn't play after apparently suffering an injury this week in practice.

But SMU's not fooling anyone for a College Football Playoff contender. Right now, neither is Michigan.

A week ago, Michigan lined up against a Mid-American Conference foe and powered its way to a 49-3 win.

SMU is from the American Athletic Conference. Not a Power Five team. And, apparently, more than capable of standing up to Michigan's offensive line.

RELATED: Last-second field goal lists No. 12 LSU over No. 7 Auburn 

The Wolverines tried to establish the ground game early against stacked fronts throughout the first half and had little success. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh kept trying, with similar results.

At one point in the second quarter, Michigan needed six plays from inside the 10-yard line to punch the football across the plane for its first score of the game. The Wolverines averaged 2.8 yards per attempt on the ground in the first half against an SMU squad that gave up 233 rushing yards a week ago at home against TCU.

In its first 30 carries Saturday, Michigan mustered 88 yards (2.93 yards per play).

The better news for Harbaugh continues to be the right arm of quarterback Shea Patterson, who didn't get off to a great start but eventually settled in for a very efficient afternoon through the air, despite throwing against considerable pressure from the Mustangs.

Patterson was intercepted near the goal line in the first half, but on a play where tight end Sean McKeon stopped running toward the ball. Not a great decision, but basically his only mistake of the day. He lofted a perfect ball into the hands of a wide-open Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 41-yard touchdown, hit Peoples-Jones on a well-timed back shoulder route in the end zone and found him for a 35-yard TD strike after play action.

We've known Patterson was capable for some time now. If anything, the question of why Harbaugh won't let him carry more water for this offense still remains. It's a safe bet the past two weeks served as experiments to get this offensive line going, though the Wolverines are no doubt going to ask more of their best offensive playmaker as they open Big Ten play next week against Nebraska.

MORE: These are college football's best turnover props 

Defensively? Far from perfect.

The defense was flagged for five of Michigan's 13 penalties during the third quarter, including a targeting penalty on junior linebacker Khaleke Hudson. He was ejected and will have to sit the first half against Nebraska. Josh Metellus had a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown to end the first half, but it was one play after he was flagged for defensive pass interference to keep a potential game-tying scoring drive moving.

Michigan was never going to silence all critics or answer all questions about its future over the past two weeks against opponents like this.

The issues Michigan had during a season-opening loss at Notre Dame are the same things that seem to be stuck in this team's side at the moment.

Conference play starts next week. Michigan's Big Ten title drought sits at 13 years.

And unless serious progress with repeated problem areas happens soon, it's difficult to project this team as the group that will put an end to that over the next two months.

This article is written by Nick Baumgardner from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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