The No. 8 Michigan Wolverines opened the season with a 51-7 win at home over the Colorado State Rams on Saturday. The game went about as expected, which is always a good thing when you’re hoping your starting quarterback plays poorly enough to be replaced without any extra drama involved.
As most people know, a week or two ago UM head coach Jim Harbaugh anointed Cade McNamara as the starting quarterback for this past week against Colorado State and JJ McCarthy as the starting quarterback this upcoming week against Hawaii. Whoever plays best will win the job.
The quarterback battle was apparently so close that Harbaugh couldn’t decide through 20-odd practices who was better, so he essentially decided to see them both in action against air over the first two weeks.
This is like having Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali fight each other and then rather than declaring a winner afterward, you tell them that you’ll need to see both of them do some shadow boxing in order to figure out who won the fight.
But I still like it. It gives McNamara an opportunity to keep the job, but much more likely, it gives the entire nation an opportunity to see what Harbaugh already knows — JJ McCarthy is the better option. There can be no hard feelings when everybody knows the truth.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Cade McNamara completed 9-of-18 passes for 136 yards with one touchdown and one sack. He also had a dropped interception on a bad throw down in the red zone. It’s concerning that the random bad throws from last season were still present this season. It is the opener, however, so maybe that will change.
Of McNamara’s 136 yards passing, 61 of those came on a quick screen pass to receiver Roman Wilson who went the distance for the touchdown.
Over the years I have charted how far downfield McNamara and other UM quarterbacks have thrown the ball. This would always provide some insight into how comfortable and confident the quarterback was and how explosive his receivers were downfield. I didn’t bother doing that in this game because I fully expect this to be McNamara’s final start as a Michigan Wolverine.
I like Michigan’s receivers well enough. They all have various capabilities. Roman Wilson showed his speed on his 61-yard catch-and-run. Cornelius Johnson out wide is a veteran now and can be trusted. Slot receiver AJ Henning is still just a jet sweeper at this point it seems, though we shouldn’t make too many broad generalizations based on just one game. (Other than the whole thing about the quarterbacks, of course.)
It was great to see Ronnie Bell back. He only had one catch for nine yards and also had a drop, but he did a heck of a job blocking on Roman Wilson’s touchdown. Regardless of his numbers, just being back out there after missing nearly all of last season with an injury is huge. I’m expecting a big game next week when the downfield quarterback is playing.
Michigan ran for 234 yards on 40 attempts, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Blake Corum led the team with 76 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Donovan Edwards went for 64 yards on 12 attempts. McCarthy rushed for 50 yards on three attempts, including a 20-yard touchdown run.
McCarthy obviously gives this team a running threat at quarterback, which also gives them a running threat with the read option. His downfield arm also helps the running game as well because it should keep defenders from being so confident about cheating up.
The longest run of the day was McCarthy’s, which is disappointing. The Wolverines were without starting left tackle Ryan Hayes. That was a game-time decision, I believe. He was replaced by sixth-man Karsen Barnhart who started four games there last year. He played well until he had to leave the game with a sprained ankle in the first quarter.
Starting left guard Trevor Keegan then moved out to left tackle and reserve lineman Giovanni El-Hadi went to left guard. Not only is this offensive line experienced but they’re deep enough to lose two guys and not take too much of a hit. (This was just Colorado State, however.)
Jim Harbaugh said on Monday that Barnhart is likely out this week. Hayes should be back unless there is flooding.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Michigan held Colorado State to 82 yards rushing on 39 carries (2.1 avg), including seven sacks which led to 50 yards of lost yardage for Rams quarterback Clay Millen.
Millen completed an impressive 16-of-20 passes en route to 137 yards passing. He threw one touchdown and one interception to sophomore safety Rod Moore.
The Rams were 97th in the nation in scoring last year, so it’s not like they were expected to be any kind of threat in this one.
Still, when nine different players notch at least half a sack, that’s something to celebrate. Especially when you consider the pass-rushing losses of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
We won’t know just how good this pass rush is for a while. And I’m not sure if the fact that there were so many guys successfully rushing the passer says more about the rushers, or Colorado State’s offensive line.
Still, it was good to see guys like Jaylen Harrell, Braiden McGregor, Mike Morris, and Eyabi Anoma getting into the backfield from the edge. True freshman Derrick Moore also got in the quarterback’s face on a throw.
Three of those players getting to the quarterback were safeties Rod Moore and RJ Moten, and nickel Mike Sainristil.
It was interesting to see how Michigan’s safeties were employed for much of the game. Moore and Makari Paige were the starting safeties, while Moten played a nickel/Sam type of thing — like a Viper/Bullet/Star, which probably suits him because he’s not necessarily fast enough to be a deep guy. Sainristil — who was a receiver last year — replaced him as the nickel on passing downs and did not look out of place even a little. He was an aggressive defender who was able to use his evasive abilities to help out on screens and get into the backfield.
There looked to essentially be a cornerback trio of DJ Turner and Gemon Green as the starters, with 5-star freshman Will Johnson also receiving plenty of playing time. He had some good moments but also gave up the lone touchdown on a 34-yard pass in the fourth quarter. I would expect Johnson to be starting with Turner before too long.
The Michigan Special Teams
The Wolverine special teams were very good, as they almost always are. They allowed no return yardage on the day. Punter Brad Robbins averaged 47 yards per punt, and kicker Jake Moody hit all three of his field goal attempts.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that when your offense settles for three first-half field goals in the red zone against a Colorado State defense that finished last season by giving up 50 and 52 points to Hawaii and Nevada, respectively, it’s okay to go with a different starting quarterback.
Cade McNamara doesn’t scare defenses. JJ McCarthy does. The problem is that McCarthy may also scare Jim Harbaugh, which is maybe why they have him run the ball as much as he throws it. That needs to change on Saturday against Hawaii. If he is scrambling even more than four or five times, that’s a concern. He should be able to stand in the pocket and either find open receivers or throw them open.
It also means that I might be outsourcing the next two Michigan Mondays to somebody on Fiverr because the only thing we’re going to learn is if JJ McCarthy can’t do the job. This non-conference schedule is the worst thing to happen to Michigan fans since Rich Rodriguez said yes.
But at least it has allowed Jim Harbaugh to play imaginary games with his starting quarterbacks.
The Road To The Game
Sept 3 — Michigan 51 – Colorado State 7
Sept 10 — Hawaii
Sept 17 — Connecticut
Sept 24 — Maryland
Oct 1 — at Iowa
Oct 8 — at Indiana
Oct 15 — Penn State
Oct 29 — Michigan State
Nov 5 — at Rutgers
Nov 12 — Nebraska
Nov 19 — Illinois
Nov 26 — at Ohio State