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Opponent film breakdown: A look at Michigan

The Wolverines are headed to College Park and will be a tough test in all phases.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football will welcome No. 14 Michigan to College Park for Homecoming on Saturday, hoping to find a spark after losing three consecutive games.

The Wolverines are one of the toughest annual opponents for the Terps in the Big Ten, and this season is no different. They come in averaging 31 points per game and allow just 18.38 points on average.

Here is a closer look at what to expect from Michigan on Saturday:

Zone rushing and big blocks

While Michigan comes into this weekend’s matchup averaging more yards through the air than on the ground, it’s actually the zone running scheme that has been giving opponents problems as of late.

Against then-No. 8 Notre Dame last week, the Wolverines ran for 303 yards and three touchdowns, mostly thanks to their scheme, but also the offensive line.

Michigan is able to deploy a massive line on the offensive side of the ball with 16 players weighing in at over 300 pounds. Size has clearly played a negative role against Maryland, as Minnesota used one of the largest lines in the Big Ten to push around the Terps last week.

The zone run scheme works so well — not only because of the size and speed of the line — but because of having a playmaker like running back Zach Charbonnet in the backfield. The freshman has racked up 531 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, while his backup, sophomore Hassan Haskins, has carried the ball 59 times for an average of 6.2 yards per carry.

Swarm defending

One of the biggest keys to success on the defensive side is creating pressure up front and attacking the ball in space as a group.

The Michigan defense does a great job of swarming to the ball and making plays on the defensive end, which is part of the reason why teams struggle to generate consistency against it.

Defensive lineman Kwity Paye (No. 19) is one of the staples of this defense, as he’s tallied a team-leading 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

Overall, eight Wolverine players have earned at least one sack this season, and even defensive backs such as Ambry Thomas (No. 1) and Josh Metellus (No. 14) have been able to capitalize with tackles in the backfield and interceptions thanks to relentless pressure.

Against Illinois, the size and speed of Michigan’s defense was easily apparent, as it exhibited this swarm technique against the Illini’s own zone run scheme.

The Wolverines generally line up with three down linemen and an outside backer that can play standing or with a hand down. The size stuffing the middle forces plays off towards the sidelines, where the speed of the linebacking corps and instincts of defensive backs often create a meeting between the ball carrier and a group of defenders.

An iffy quarterback

While the Wolverines have had their share of troubles at the quarterback position over recent years, Shea Patterson has stepped up and grabbed the bonafide starter role in 2019.

Despite passing for 1,622 yards and 11 touchdowns, Patterson has thrown four interceptions and completed 57 percent of his passes — good enough for 94th in the country.

Against Penn State on a national stage, Patterson showed one of his biggest faults — assuming things will go according to plan and not focusing on each play. This often occurs on screen plays, and against the Nittany Lions, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields was able to come up with an interception off of a poor screen throw.

The same mistake almost occurred earlier in the season, as Patterson looked downfield to pass against Illinois. When nothing was available, he attempted to dump it off to Charbonnet on a screen.

Lack of focus is one of the biggest differences between average and good quarterbacks. Patterson certainly has areas of his game that need work, but in the meantime can be masked by Michigan’s successes on the ground and on defense.

The bottom line

Year in and year out, Michigan is and will be one of the programs Maryland strives to compete with.

Both programs have talent across the board, but the Wolverines — along with other powerhouses in the Big Ten — seem to make things work more easily.

Despite injuries and the team’s record, the Terps will continue trucking forward and follow the staff’s guidance as the season comes to a close. There is always the chance for surprises though, and that’s why they play the games.