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Michigan Wolverines

The good and bad of Michigan through Week 3

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 16: Michigan Wolverines running back Karan Higdon (22) runs wide for a gain during the Michigan Wolverines versus US Air Force Academy Falcons game on Saturday September 16, 2017 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)
Steven King/Icon Sportswire

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan scored 17 offensive touchdowns through the first three games of the 2016 season, finishing its 10-3 run to the Orange Bowl by averaging 40 points per game.

It was a lethal offense, one with weapons everywhere.

Through the first three games of 2017, the No. 7-ranked Wolverines have scored just five offensive touchdowns, including just one during Saturday’s 29-13 win over Air Force. Thus far, they’ve leaned on their defense and special teams, which have been great. However, in order to truly compete in the Big Ten, the Wolverines need to score offensive touchdowns.

The offense will come. It’s there. It just has to cap the lapses, especially in the red zone. Michigan can’t punch in the ball once on the doorstep.

Special thanks to reader Maurice Iott for video

Had quarterback Wilton Speight hit receiver Grant Perry, or even running back Ty Isaac, the Wolverines may have been able to cash in on six points.

“I think we’re very close. There have been little things that happened. If one guy has a hiccup, it can cost the whole offense,” said junior running back Karan Higdon, who had one of his best pass-protection games during a 29-13 win Saturday over Air Force. “So I think we’re very close, and I think we’ll be ready. I think we’re ready to compete, and I think the young guys are doing a great job at competing at a high level.”

Young guys are still learning — and it’s just three games into the season. There is no reason to hit the panic button. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has noted the production of freshmen and first-year starters. He’s also cited their mistakes, all of which are correctable.

The passing game needs to be tweaked. One year ago, Michigan used its tight ends as part of an effective balance. So far, tight ends have a decent portion of the total volume — catching 13 of a total 43 team receptions — but they’ve yet to truly emerge as steady threats.

Some of Speight’s best throws have been to Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. Gentry has caught a 36-yarder and has a total of three catches for 71 yards. He had a 30-yard reception against Air Force. At 6-foot-7, he’s an ideal jump-ball target.

McKeon, a short-route option and reliable blocker, has five catches for 38 yards, but he wasn’t targeted Saturday.

With that said, the Wolverines have compensated in some ways by rushing well, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 199.33 yards per game. They’ve picked up 30 of 52 first downs by way of the ground game, but they’re in need of some adjustments — especially on first down.

We’ve got to be the best running back room in the country. We’re never satisfied, as a running back room. We’re always looking at things to get better,” Higdon said. “(Running backs) coach Jay (Harbaugh) does a great job of emphasizing that. We can’t take the big things that happen (big runs) and be satisfied.

“We’ve got to find a way to get better and find a way to make things right. If something happens, something goes wrong on offense, us as running backs, we’ve got to put it on our shoulders and find a way to make it right.”

On Saturday, Higdon contributed with a game-sealing 36-yard rushing touchdown. He followed the lead of fullback Henry Poggi and was “off to the races.”

With Ty Isaac and Chris Evans, the Wolverines have a solid trio capable of wearing down opposing defenses, which excites those in the position group.

It hypes us up tremendously. That means that guys are doing a great job,” Higdon said. “Ty is doing a great job of making guys miss. Seeing that, seeing that unfold, definitely gives us confidence and determination into the next play.”

Other issues

Against Cincinnati on Sept. 9, freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones misfielded a punt, effectively halting momentum and resulting in a 10-play touchdown drive in the first quarter by the Bearcats.

Also during that game, a 36-14 win by Michigan, Speight mishandled an exchange with receiver Kekoa Crawford — another drive-killing mistake. Speight has overthrown and underthrown several receivers, even missing wide-open touchdown opportunities.

The right side of Michigan’s offensive line has struggled. The majority of big passing plays and running plays have followed the left side.

Penalties have been an enemy to the Wolverines, nicking them for 65 yards per game. Holding and unsportsmanlike calls have done their share to limit the offense. The Wolverines have been penalized 14 times during the past two games, seven each, and they already have 21 infractions.

In 2016, Michigan had 63 total penalties and averaged 45.6 yards lost per game.

Three weeks into the season. Several new faces. Some correctable issues.

But Michigan is still a top-10 team and undefeated and has an elite-level defense, so the sky is not falling in Ann Arbor.

Follow Adam Biggers of FanRag Sports on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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