Michigan football stock watch: OL, Brandon Watson on the rise – Detroit Free Press


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Free Press writers Jeff Seidel, Nick Baumgardner and Orion Sang react to Michigan’s eighth straight win, a 42-7 whopping of Penn State, Nov. 3, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep

Free Press sports writer Nick Baumgardner looks at which Michigan football players or position groups helped and hurt their stock in Saturday’s 42-7 win vs. Penn State: 

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Offensive line

Michigan’s offensive line looks legit. Two weeks ago against the then No. 1-ranked rush defense in America, Michigan State, the Wolverines sealed the football game on the ground in the second half. Saturday against Penn State, the Big Ten’s best pass rush unit, U-M kept Shea Patterson clean and paved the way for 259 rushing yards in a total thrashing of the Nittany Lions. Michigan’s offensive line has been on a steady incline since a disappointing start at Notre Dame to open the year. Through nine weeks, it’s tough to find another group in the Big Ten playing better. 

More on U-M: Grades: Accolades for domination of Penn State

CB Brandon Watson

Watson doesn’t get the attention that fellow corners Lavert Hill and David Long do, but he has been outstanding this season and is absolutely a critical piece in Michigan’s top-ranked defense. His 62-yard interception return for a touchdown Saturday was his second pick-six of the season. Don Brown and Michael Zordich trust him completely, as he’s on the field with Hill and Long as much as possible and can cover just about anyone. Hill and Long get a lot of NFL draft buzz. Watson should get some, too. He has been terrific this season. 

More: Michigan football: Penn State ‘so scared’ of our defensive line

DE Josh Uche

Two more sacks for Uche brings his season total up to a team-leading seven. When Michigan went to a third-down rush package of Uche, Kwity Paye, Michael Dwumfour and Chase Winovich, Penn State had no hope. Rashan Gary returned Saturday and played in a somewhat limited role. If Gary gets back into form and U-M tries to get as much speed on the field as possible, these sack numbers could soar. As is, Uche and Paye on the same side of the line is an athletic nightmare for most Big Ten offensive lines.  

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Field goal team

Quinn Nordin has now missed four of his last seven field goal attempts, though Saturday’s 50-yard blocked kick really wasn’t his fault. The line broke down and the kick was blocked almost immediately. And if it weren’t for an illegal block, the blocked kick would’ve been returned for a touchdown. The field goal unit is, at the moment, the only real weakness on the team.

More from Seidel: Harbaugh has finally built a U-M team in his image 

QB depth

Backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey broke his collarbone on a rush during Michigan’s final mop-up drive of the game. That’s a serious blow for McCaffrey, who had been terrific in his backup role so far this season. But it also thins out the overall depth at the position behind Shea Patterson. Third-year sophomore Brandon Peters came in to finish the game, though Michigan has also played true freshman Joe Milton. The quest to keep Patterson healthy has always been a top priority. It’s more important now. 

Underdog number 

U-M was a 10-point favorite against Wisconsin and won by 25. The Wolverines were seven-point favorites at MSU and won by 14. On Saturday, Michigan entered Saturday’s game against Penn State 10.5-point favorites and walked out of the stadium with a 35-point win. This was the toughest back-to-back-to-back stretch of U-M’s schedule and the Wolverines destroyed it. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.

 


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