Offense Notes: Milton's 344 Yards, 3 Touchdowns Not Enough In U-M's Loss
Michigan Wolverines football redshirt sophomore quarterback Joe Milton threw for 344 yards on Saturday, but it wasn't enough for U-M to come away with a victory at Indiana. The Maize and Blue fell, 38-21, despite Milton completing 18 of his 34 passes (52.9 percent) with a career-best three touchdowns.
One negative aspect in his performance was that he also tossed his first two interceptions of the season, which occurred on Michigan's final two drives of the game.
Spreading the ball around this season has been a theme for Milton, with the 6-5, 243-pounder connecting with eight different targets on Saturday afternoon. His three scoring tosses also went to three different players, with junior receiver Ronnie Bell, freshman wideout Roman Wilson and sophomore receiver Cornelius Johnson all hauling in a touchdown.
Milton's 344 yards were not only a career high, but also the 15th most in a single game in school history. He has now thrown for at least 300 yards in two of his first three career starts, after compiling 300 yards in last week's 27-24 loss to Michigan State.
Though the signal-caller enjoyed a stellar day through the air, the same can't be said for the impact he made with his legs. Having rushed for 52 and 59 yards in U-M's first two matchups, respectively, the redshirt sophomore finished the day with minus-nine rushing yards after he was sacked three times. Even without the sacks factored in, he gained only 11 yards on his other two rushes.
IU's rush defense had been burned once this year on the ground by an opposing quarterback, when Penn State redshirt junior Sean Clifford ran for 119 yards and averaged seven yards per carry in the season-opener.
Milton's passing yards accounted for 344 of Michigan's 357 yards of total offense. The QB consistently had to dig the Wolverines out of challenging down-and-distance situations set up by the lack of a ground game, which netted just 13 rushing yards on the day.
Michigan's Rushing Attack Nonexistent In Loss To The Hoosiers
Michigan racked up only 13 rushing yards on Saturday in Bloomington, averaging 0.7 yards per attempt. Redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins led the way with 19 yards on six carries, but no other U-M player had more than five yards on the ground.
The Maize and Blue have been rotating four running backs all season (Haskins, sophomore Zach Charbonnet, fifth-year senior Chris Evans and freshman Blake Corum), and that pattern continued on Saturday.
Haskins' six attempts were the most of the bunch, while Evans carried three times, Corum twice and Charbonnet only once. A reshuffled offensive line was part of the reason for U-M's struggles on the ground.
Both tackles — redshirt sophomores Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes — missed the game with injury, which caused freshman Zak Zinter and redshirt freshman Karsen Barnhart to slide into the starting lineup at right guard and left tackle, respectively. Former starting guard Andrew Stueber slid out to man right tackle.
It was the second time Zinter has seen offensive action — having previously played seven snaps against Minnesota — while Barnhart had seen some reserve action in each of the past two years, with 35 offensive plays worth of experience coming into the contest. It was the first career start for both.
Barnhart started in place of Hayes, and Zinter subbed in for Stueber, who took Mayfield's place. It marked the first game Mayfield did not start since the 2018 Peach Bowl loss to Florida. Zinter's starting nod was the first for a freshman offensive lineman since left guard Ben Bredeson began the final eight games of the 2016 campaign.
"They played a great game," Milton said of the two new starting linemen. "They work their behinds off in practice all through the week. When Jalen went down, they just kept working. Ryan Hayes had his foot injury — nothing major — but those two stepped in and just kept going."
It was nevertheless Michigan's worst rushing effort since a loss to Nebraska on Nov. 9, 2013, when the club was held to minus-21 yards on the ground. The Hoosiers' defensive front gave up 250 rushing yards to Penn State in this year's season opener and 121 to Rutgers last week.
"We’ve got to make some improvements in the run game, no question about it," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The offensive line was very much reshuffled as you saw during the game.
"I thought guys did extremely well. [Redshirt junior Andrew] Stueber went from right guard to right tackle. Zak Zinter started at right guard, and I thought Karsen Barnhart did some really good things as well."
Miscellaneous Michigan Football Offense Notes
• Bell registered the second 100-yard receiving game of his career, reeling in 149 yards. It was just one yard shy of his career high, which he set last season against Michigan State. The junior also caught his first touchdown of the year on Saturday (a 21-yard reception in the fourth quarter), and just the fourth of his tenure. It marked the most receiving yards for any Michigan player since wideout Nico Collins accumulated 165 in a 39-14 win at Indiana last season on Nov. 23.
"We’ve been building our connection for a while, ever since COVID started," Milton explained, referring to his chemistry with Bell. "And he’s just always around the ball. Those types of guys, you just want to get them the ball, but that goes for all my receivers."
• U-M's 344 passing yards were its most in a tilt since it accumulated 366 in a 39-14 blowout win at Indiana last season. Combined with last week, it's also the first time Michigan has thrown for at least 300 yards in consecutive outings since the Indiana (366) and Ohio State (305) showdowns to close out the 2019 regular season.
• Saturday was the first time Milton had ever tossed multiple touchdown passes in a contest in his career. The 344 yards he threw for were also the most of his tenure, surpassing the 300 he compiled last week against Michigan State.
• Wilson's 13-yard scoring grab in the third quarter was the first time he had ever found the end zone.
• The 357 yards Michigan posted on Saturday were its fewest in a game since it tallied 331 in a 38-7 win over Maryland last year on Nov. 2.
• U-M converted three of its 11 third downs (27.2 percent).
• Johnson's 37-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter was his first score of the season and the second of his career. His only other touchdown came on a 39-yard reception last season against Michigan State. Johnson's 82 yards this weekend were a career high, eclipsing the previous best of 52 he posted last week.
• Milton averaged 19.1 yards per completion.
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