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Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football team open the Big Ten Conference schedule at 4 p.m. ET Saturday at Purdue.

Michigan football mailbag: On turnovers, is Jim Harbaugh holding his offense back, and early bowl projections for the Wolverines

Rachel Lenzi

Have Michigan football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Michigan mailbag to talk all things Wolverines. This week, we’ll discuss turnovers and how they could affect the outcome of a game, whether or not Jim Harbaugh is holding back his offense and possible bowl-game destinations for the Wolverines.

How many turnovers can Michigan have, and still win the game against Purdue?

We’re forced to put our thinking caps on and to do some math for this installment of the mailbag.

Michigan has had 5 turnovers (2 interceptions and 3 lost fumbles) in its first three games.

Michigan is undefeated so far this season, and faces upstart Purdue, which is 2-1 and has forced 8 turnovers this season (2 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries).

Michigan is averaging 1.6 turnovers a game. Purdue is forcing 2.6 turnovers a game. Michigan is undefeated, Purdue has lost one game.

The advantage goes toward Michigan — but the Wolverines not only will need to protect the ball, but will have to do several other things to win this game. It isn’t just about turnovers, though a turnover-free game would certainly work in Michigan’s favor.

Zero turnovers is optimal for Michigan, but let’s round it up to two.

Our crack Land of 10 Michigan research staff (Kevin Goheen) found a piece from the Christian Science Monitor which answers the question “what team committed the most turnovers in a game they won?”

Purdue had 11 turnovers in a 40-21 win against Illinois in 1943.

Is there any truth to the speculation that Jim Harbaugh is holding offense back until conference play?

Let’s get one thing clear: Jim Harbaugh holds nothing back.

If anyone’s holding anything back, it’s the offense itself. Here are the sum of the parts: there’s been questionable play-calling, and that can be remedied (though with the approach of the Big Ten schedule, you have to wonder if that window has already closed).

This is Michigan’s most glaring shortcoming on offense. A red-zone opportunity is like a 5-on-3 power play in hockey — those should be money in the bank.

There is a lack of execution within the red zone. Michigan has scored 1 touchdown and 8 field goals in 10 possessions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Karan Higdon scored Michigan’s only red-zone touchdown in the season opener against Florida on a 7-yard run.

Meanwhile …

Guess who has the best red-zone conversion in the Big Ten so far? Purdue, which is 13 for 13 with 10 touchdowns.

There’s a certain hesitation about players when it comes to execution. Three nonconference games, including a nail-biter (for three quarters) against Cincinnati and what some would regard as a battle of attrition against Air Force, should give an offense enough time and enough reps to be comfortable/confident in its scheme. But this offense doesn’t look comfortable, and will have to quickly figure it out at Purdue.

Like its coach, Michigan’s offense needs to hold nothing back this weekend.

If Michigan loses on Saturday, do you think this is the end for Wilton Speight?

Josè M. Santiago submitted this question on our Monday Facebook Live chat, and gives us a chance to clear up one thing:

Wilton Speight is Harbaugh’s guy. “Ride or die,” as the kids say. Harbaugh has stuck with Speight this far and, unless something disastrous happens, he’ll remain with Speight. As my colleague Kevin noted in his Monday look back at the Air Force game that Speight’s footwork improved from Week 2 to Week 3. When he threw the ball away it wasn’t out of panic but instead out of the flow of the play (smart throwaways). Nonetheless, Speight still has room to improve when it comes to accuracy.

Speight’s numbers (42 of 77 for 571 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) are nowhere near atrocious, but they’re not off the charts, either.

Speight’s statistical dip can partly be attributed to the fact that Michigan went to a run-heavy game in its offense against the Falcons last weekend, rushing for 190 yards on 42 carries. Against Air Force, Speight finished 14 for 23 passing for 169 yards; he entered averaging 201 yards a game.

What is the injury status of Ty Isaac and Tarik Black? Both players are arguably our two biggest threats to score

This question was submitted during the weekend, and the big news out of Michigan’s Monday news conference was the loss of freshman wide receiver Tarik Black, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury — “a crack in his foot,” as Harbaugh called it.

Harbaugh didn’t give any more specifics on Black’s injury, sustained against Air Force. Harbaugh also didn’t know if the injury is season-ending.

Black’s injury is a loss for Michigan’s young receivers; Black immediately came out of the gate in his debut Sept. 2 against Florida and gave Michigan an immediate spark at wide receiver. (The force was strong in Black, who has 11 catches for 149 yards, including 5 catches for 55 yards against Air Force.)

This is bad for Black, but it gives Michigan’s young receivers a chance to actively develop. Expect bigger roles in the passing game for freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones and sophomore Kekoa Crawford, and also expect to see more looks for tight ends Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks.

Isaac went to Michigan’s in the locker room in the fourth quarter against Air Force, 11 yards shy of his third consecutive 100-yard game, with what Harbaugh said was abdominal injury. Harbaugh said Monday “he’s going to be OK” for Purdue.

Which bowl game would be better for Michigan when the Wolverines make it?

Monthaporn Makpleek asked this on a recent Facebook Live chat.

This is putting the cart before the horse, but it’s fun to speculate where Michigan could spend the holidays. Here’s a look at bowl projections for the Wolverines this week from national publications:

Sports Illustrated: Peach Bowl vs. Georgia

CBSSports.com/Jerry Palm: Holiday Bowl vs. Utah

TheScore.com/Brett McMurphy: Fiesta Bowl vs. USC

Sporting News: Fiesta Bowl, vs. USC

Michigan becomes bowl-eligible with six wins. By opening the season 3-0, the Wolverines are halfway there.

Bonus time!

Here are my ballots for this week’s Football Writers Association of America/National Football Foundation Super 16 poll and the Land of 10 Power Poll. Each week, I’ll include my rankings for the Football Writers Association of America/National Football Foundation Super 16 poll and the Land of 10 Power Poll. Check the end of each weekly mailbag for my ballots.

FWAA/NFF Super 16 ballot Land of 10 Power Poll
1. Alabama 1. Penn State
2. Clemson 2. Michigan
3. Oklahoma 3. Ohio State
4. USC 4. Wisconsin
5. Penn State 5. Maryland
6. Michigan 6. Iowa
7. Ohio State 7. Minnesota
8. Florida State 8. Purdue
9. Washington 9. Northwestern
10. Oklahoma State 10. Michigan State
11. Wisconsin 11. Nebraska
12. Georgia 12. Indiana
13. Mississippi State 13. Illinois
14. Virginia Tech 14. Rutgers
15. Washington State
16. San Diego State

Have a question about Michigan football? Tweet us @Landof10Mich and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Michigan football mailbags here.