Michigan Monday

Michigan Monday: Season Finally Begins For Wolverines

Maryland opened up Saturday’s game against Michigan by taking a kickoff to the face, and they closed it by forcing the Wolverines to recover an onside kick in order to seal a closer-than-necessary win over the Terrapins.

When the clock went to zeroes, Michigan stood on top 34-27. The Wolverines moved to 4-0 on the season, more relieved than happy. They took advantage of Maryland’s mistakes and were fortunate not to have their own mistakes used against them.

The loss moved the Terps to 3-1 on the season. We are still learning how good they are, but there is enough talent on hand to assign them plenty of credit for making this one as close as it was.

We will get into what went wrong for the Wolverines in this one, but the key takeaway is that the non-conference schedule did not prepare Michigan for this game. They will have learned more about themselves from this game than all of their first three games combined.

They got the correct answer against Maryland, but the math they used to get there may not have been completely accurate.

When Michigan Was On Offense

Michigan running back Blake Corum carried the ball 30 times for 243 yards. Both of those numbers were career highs, and certainly more than the Terps were accustomed to giving up this season.

Heck, a year ago, Michigan ran for 151 yards against Maryland. The Terps had no answer for Corum in this game. He had touchdown runs of 33 and 47 yards, and both were huge. The 33-yarder came on fourth down at the end of the first half to give UM their first lead. The second came in the final minutes of the second half on a third-and-4 to give the Wolverines a two-touchdown lead.

The Michigan offensive line was solid throughout, including on the aforementioned fourth down. The clinching touchdown was a loss of leverage by the Terps and Corum saw it. Corum saw everything on Saturday. This was the best game of his career. His vision was outstanding. Maryland’s defense bit on every shoulder dip that Corum gave them. He found room to run in the slightest nook and the tightest cranny.

When he had to leave the field, however, things got dicey. Sophomore Donovan Edwards was out this week, so Michigan had to go a little deeper in the backfield.

Maryland rope-a-doped Michigan’s defense by allowing Corum to pick up 48 yards over three consecutive carries, which sent him to the bench to get a breather. In came true freshman CJ Stokes who immediately lost a fumble.

Then to start the third quarter, Michigan ran Corum four times in a row, leaving them with a third-and-4. Corum went to the bench and in came walk-on Isaiah Gash. Rather than throw the ball with quarterback JJ McCarthy, the Wolverines ran the ball with Gash for two yards. Michigan then punted on fourth-and-2 from midfield.

Donovan Edwards was missed in this game, but he wouldn’t have fixed the weird play-calling on that first drive in the third quarter.

For the game, the Wolverines rushed for 243 total yards. Non-Corums carried the ball 10 times for zero yards.

Blake Corum got to show that he isn’t a change-of-pace back. He is the pace. But Michigan needs everybody else to keep up with him.

That is kind of the concern about what this offense is without Corum, and also how much this game will take out of him as the Wolverines head to Iowa City next weekend to face a Hawkeye defense that is just one of two teams nationally to not allow a rushing touchdown this season (Minnesota).

Maybe Donovan Edwards is the total answer, but first he needs to be available.

JJ McCarthy got his first real action this season against a Maryland defense that allowed 292 yards passing to Charlotte and 369 yards against Southern Methodist.

McCarthy finished 18-of-26 passing for 220 yards with two touchdowns and was sacked twice. He didn’t throw any interceptions, but did come pretty close on a throw into the end zone that was caught out of bounds by a defender.

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This game was a learning experience for McCarthy. One of the lessons he hopefully learned is that you can’t always make something out of nothing. He had some tremendous scrambles in this game, but he also needs to pick his battles better.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day worked hard last year to convince quarterback CJ Stroud that a throwaway was a good result. McCarthy isn’t there yet.

McCarthy is a tremendous playmaker and something great can happen every time he drops back. But there’s also no need for something great to happen every time he drops back. It’s okay to make the simple play or make no play at all. Especially when you’re fumble prone.

McCarthy fumbled twice in this game, but the Wolverines were able to recover both. For McCarthy right now, valor seems the better part of discretion. But this was actually his first real lesson in being a starting quarterback. Those first three games weren’t even dress rehearsals. They were like pitch meetings in front of your mom.

“Okay, so there’s this guy –“

“Oh, Sweetie, I love that idea!”

McCarthy’s pocket awareness will improve with game action. It’s just unfortunate for him that he’s having to learn on the job in Big Ten play.

I also don’t think he got a ton of help from his receivers in this one, but there wasn’t much they could do with his deep passes. He missed his first four badly, overthrowing them. He connected on his fifth attempt, which was when it was needed most. We’re not seeing a ton of touch from him just yet, either. Can he drop passes into zones? Or is he just going to try to fire everything into a window, whether it’s open or not?

Maryland did a pretty good job in coverage on the wideouts, which was a somewhat surprising. Tight end Luke Schoonmaker was a reliable option for McCarthy throughout the game. Starting tight end Erick All was out this week.

When Michigan Was On Defense

There were plenty of positives and negatives throughout this game for the Michigan defense. Maryland ran for 128 yards on 34 attempts (3.8 ypc) and threw for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Terp quarterbacks were sacked three times, and were able to escape from a couple more.

Starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had some very good moments in this game, but credit the Wolverines for making this his worst performance of the season. He completed 20-of-30 passes for 207 yards with a touchdown and two picks. He was knocked out of this game for a spell and then benched at the end as he still wasn’t quite right.

Disappointingly, backup quarterback Billy Edwards was able to move the ball down the field for a touchdown drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

I think this may have been cornerback Gemon Green’s best game as a Wolverine. Maryland has some talented receivers and Green was always seen right next to his man. Fellow cornerback DJ Turner made a diving interception that should have been overturned but wasn’t. Replay has been pretty bad this year in the Big Ten. This was another example. That interception stopped a Maryland drive at the Michigan 28-yard line with the Terps up 13-10 in the second quarter.

I continue to be pretty blown away by nickel back Mike Sainristil. Sainristil was a slot receiver last year and now may be the Wolverines’ best defensive back. He finished with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. I jokingly said a few weeks ago that he’s Michigan’s best pass rusher. I don’t know if it’s much of a joke now, though. He has replaced Dax Hill very well and does a nice job of sneaking through some of his blitzes. He’s a sure tackler as well, which makes him even better. I would not be surprised to see him earn All-Big Ten honors this year. He also had an interception on a two-point conversion.

If Sainristil isn’t the best pass rusher, then it’s defensive end Mike Morris, who pressured Tagovaioloa a number of times and tallied one sack.

Defensive tackle Mazi Smith was as active as ever with eight tackles. It was not his best game, however. There were times when the Terrapin running game was moving everybody on the Michigan front.

Linebacker Junior Colson led the team with 13 tackles, but he never seemed to impact the game. He hasn’t had a solo tackle in the running game since the season opener against Colorado State. For a comparison, Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg had seven such tackles this past weekend against Wisconsin. The two defenses are much different, but Colson could have made more plays than he did in this one. He could be another victim of the non-conference schedule. Things are moving faster now and he’ll need to do the same.

The Wolverines are playing more depth on the defensive line but I’m not sure how talented the depth actually is. They also need to get more from starting end Jaylen Harrell and starting tackle Kris Jenkins. Tagovailoa had some big pockets to work with in this game.

Overall, I think Big Ten offensive coordinators are a little less worried about the Wolverines than they were last week.

The Michigan Special Teams

Maryland kicker Chad Ryland made field goals of 53 and 52 yards. A lesser troll would say that this creates doubt that Michigan is even capable of stopping long field goals.

I, however, tend to focus on Terps head coach Mike Locksley’s decision to kick such long field goals instead of going for it on fourth-and-4 from the Michigan 35-yard line. The second one was a fourth-and-8, so that’s a bit different.

Ryland is a future pro, but Locksley seemed to think that field goals would give the Terps a better shot at winning the game. Maybe he was correct, but the shot at an additional eight points that he chose not to pursue sure seems relevant following a 7-point loss.

Michigan place-kicker Jake Moody surprisingly hooked a 43-yarder. Other than that — and the Wolverines’ stupefying inability to scheme against long-distance field goals — things went just as solidly as they normally do for Michigan’s special teams.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that we finally know something applicable about this Michigan team. More importantly, it means that now the Wolverines know it too.

This team can finally go about improving its weaknesses.

After all, it’s hard to find where the leaks are in a boat if you never actually put the boat in the water.

JJ McCarthy now has a better understanding of what he can and can’t get away with. His internal clock should be ticking at a better pace now. Defensively, the Wolverines have more of an idea of what it’s going to take to deal with Big Ten offensive lines.

Now they just need to apply what they have learned and continue to improve.

It also means that Michigan’s defense is not ready for Ohio State’s offense.

The Buckeyes have the ability to take what the defense gives them, but then they also have the ability to just do what they want. They have run against heavy fronts and thrown against eight-man zones.

Ohio State’s offense can keep a defense guessing.

Michigan is now in the process of learning, however, which they hope will lead to much less guessing down the road when it matters most.

The Road To The Game

Sept 3 — Michigan 51 – Colorado State 7
Sept 10 — Michigan 56 – Hawai’i 10
Sept 17 — Michigan 59 – Connecticut 0
Sept 24 — Michigan 34 – Maryland 27
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

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