Debate It: Does U-M have the B1G's top offense?

Debate It: Does U-M have the B1G's top offense?

Each week during the season, BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman and a featured guest will debate a topic related to Big Ten football. This week, Detroit News Michigan football beat writer Angelique Chengelis and I debate the following question: “After scoring 41 points against Notre Dame last weekend, is it fair to say that Michigan has the Big Ten’s best offense right now?”

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Sean: I can certainly see that argument being made, but I’m going to go with the Big Ten team that no one seems to be talking about right now—Wisconsin. Yes, the competition hasn’t been great, but the Badgers have outscored their opponents 93-0 in the first two weeks of the season. Wisconsin’s passing game is improved from last season and the running game is one of, if not the best in the country. How can you argue with that?

Angelique: Oh, I can argue anything, and we both know the woman is always right. But really? Wisconsin? Shutouts against UMass and Tennessee Tech? I would agree with you that Michigan’s opener against Central Michigan was not a game on which you’d make a lot of declarations about the Wolverines, but 41 points against Notre Dame in a victory? Michigan might not be ranked high in all of the Big Ten’s offensive statistical categories, but here are two reasons why the Wolverines have the best offense in the conference — they are tied for first in the Big Ten in red-zone offense, 11-of-11, including a league-best 10 touchdowns. They’re also averaging 50 points a game.

Sean: Pulling out the stats early on in the debate, huh? That’s fair. We all know stats don’t lie. But if we’re going to play that game, here’s one for you to think about. Wisconsin has three running backs — Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement — that rank in the top-four in rushing yards in the Big Ten. In fact, the Badgers are the first team with three players to run for 100 yards or more in consecutive games since Rice did it all the way back in 2004. And it’s not just the running game. Quarterback Joel Stave has put up some incredible stats as well. Don’t get me wrong, Michigan has posted some impressive numbers thus far, but it’s nowhere near as impressive and balanced as Wisconsin’s offensive attack.

Angelique: Stats? Did you say stats, Sean? So I should be overly impressed with Wisconsin’s bazillion yards against UMass, which is ranked 119th in total defense? And I am not bringing Tennessee Tech back into the discussion. That said, Wisconsin IS impressive with its rushing attack, and we have come to expect that kind of production from the Badgers. There’s no doubt Michigan has to get Wisconsin-like numbers from its running backs, but Gardner is averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry from the quarterback position and Fitz Toussaint is averaging 64 yards rushing a game — I thought he gained some tough yards against an Irish defense that is about un-UMass-like as they come. If you determine a balanced offense against two light-weight defenses, OK. But I think Michigan has had to prove more offensively in two games.

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Sean: I agree with you that Michigan has had to prove more offensively in two games, no argument there. But you bringing up Fitz Toussaint’s 64 yards-per-game average proved my point right there. Wisconsin has three backs that average more than that in a half. I know you’re going to win the “Michigan has had better competition” argument, but let’s flip the script to defense here for a second. Be it against weaker competition, the Badgers’ defense has yet to allow a 20-plus yard play this season. In fact, they haven’t even let a team reach the red zone this season. Regardless of who they’ve played against up to this point, that stat is very, very impressive.

Angelique: I’m going to keep throwing UMass and Tennessee Tech at you, Sean. Look, Michigan beat Central Michigan by 50 in the opener and doesn’t face an enormous test on Saturday against Akron. In my mind, those are like scrimmages set on a big stage, just like Wisconsin faced its first two weeks. There is a lot of youth on this Michigan team and against a very good Notre Dame offense, which did get some big plays and had a 90-yard, 12-play drive in the third quarter, the defense made critical stops when needed. Back to the all-critical red-zone stat, Notre Dame was in the red zone five times and came away with 17 points.  That seems like a solid performance to me. (Central had three field goals in the opener). Michigan’s defensive line certainly has room for improvement, but Greg Mattison’s game plan was to limit the work for the defensive backs and not allow a number of big plays. Oh, and against Akron, I’m pretty sure you could get Badger-like rushing numbers. 

Sean: I think that this weekend could very well settle our debate with Wisconsin finally playing a game that you wouldn’t consider a “big stage scrimmage.” Now, I’m not saying that Arizona State is Notre Dame. But, traveling across the country to play against one of the best offensive attacks in the Pac-12 is not an easy task. But, if the Badgers come out and put up more eye-popping numbers on Saturday night, then I’m going to have to crown myself the outright champion of this debate. Your Wolverines had their shining moment against a big-time opponent in Notre Dame. Now it’s time for the Badgers to have their own moment and prove they have the conferences’ top offensive attack. Get your popcorn ready!

Angelique: Let’s get one thing straight — they are not MY Wolverines, but I do happen to watch them on a regular basis. And you are right — did I just say that? (and was I sincere?) — the Badgers have a very good test versus Arizona State, and I also agree with you it’s tough to travel West to play a tough Pac-12 team. I also think we must agree that the real test to determine the best offenses in the Big Ten will probably come in-conference in the final quarter of the season. Right now, there’s a lot glossy about Michigan and Wisconsin’s offenses, the Badgers with their gaudy rushing numbers and the Wolverines with a high risk-high reward quarterback in Devin Gardner. Both offenses are far from being finished products, but two weeks into the season, I’d say both have plenty of reasons to feel good about the future.

What do you think?

About Sean Merriman BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.
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