The Michigan Wolverines moved to 10-0 on the season following a 34-3 win over Nebraska in the Big House on Saturday. Nebraska ran for 75 yards, making them the seventh UM opponent this season to be held under 100 yards rushing.
Amazingly, Hawaii’s 140 yards rushing against the Wolverines back in week two is still the best anybody has done on the ground against them, and about 115 of those yards came in the second half after Michigan already had a 42-0 lead.
Michigan’s defense continues to overwhelm overmatched and understaffed offenses. They haven’t even allowed 400 yards of total offense to an opponent yet this season.
But before you get too excited, this Nebraska team has the third-best offense Michigan has faced this year — and they’re ranked No. 86 in total offense. Seven of the Wolverines’ opponents are ranked 99th or worse, including four opponents ranked between 121 and 130.
Michigan continues to do what they’re supposed to do and nobody’s been able to put up enough of a fight to make them do something they don’t want to do. Until that happens, we should probably stop expecting them to be anything other than what they’ve been all year long.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Running back Blake Corum rushed for 162 yards on 28 carries in just three quarters of action. Michigan finished with 264 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt.
I didn’t watch the game live, but after checking the box score Saturday night, I asked on Twitter why Corum needed to carry the ball 28 times. Turned out that maybe Donovan Edwards was a bit banged up, which would help explain him only carrying the ball twice.
Also, a lot of the responses I got surrounded the Heisman and that this was Jim Harbaugh keeping Corum in the discussion. That may be accurate, but this game was never going to carry any weight for Heisman voters. The Heisman will be won or lost in Columbus, for both Corum and Buckeye quarterback CJ Stroud. Nebraska hasn’t played a part in a Heisman decision in 20 years and Saturday wasn’t going to change that.
Going into this game, I thought this would have been a good opportunity for quarterback JJ McCarthy to throw the ball around and try to find some type of rhythm. Instead, he threw it 17 times and completed just eight passes. Nine of those passes came in the second quarter, so that was actually quite a few in one short span of time, but he completed just four of his attempts.
He kept trying to stretch the field in the second quarter, throwing four passes at least 30 yards downfield. All four passes were incomplete as the Wolverines continue to struggle finding consistency down the field.
Not having tight end Luke Schoonmaker healthy is an issue. He is their most consistent chain mover. Without Schoonmaker (and original starter Erick All), everybody had to move up a spot at tight end, which made them less effective running the ball out of 12 personnel at times.
Ronnie Bell led the team with 72 yards receiving on four catches and made a tremendous catch-and-run down the sideline. There is no doubting his athleticism and ability to make plays here and there, but if it all has to be after the catch, then he’s not going to be as effective as he could be.
But the inability to connect downfield isn’t just on McCarthy. We’ve said here for weeks that it’s a two-way street between the QB accuracy and the receivers’ ability to get open or make 50/50 catches. Actually, right now, it’s not even a two-way street. It’s two one-way streets that have yet to intersect.
As defenses have caught on with Michigan’s inability to stretch the field through the air, Blake Corum’s been less successful stretching it on the ground.
Corum has been fantastic this season and is probably the most consistent offensive player in the nation, but the lack of an explosive passing game is making life more difficult for him than it was supposed to be.
For instance, in Michigan’s first Big Ten game this season, Corum had five rushes over 20 yards. In his six conference games and 163 carries since, he’s had just four. His long run against Nebraska was just 12 yards, which is disappointing on Michigan’s part, but remarkable on Corum’s part because there is no 50-yard run to pad his stats. Every yard gained is a yard earned. The Michigan offensive line continues to move the line of scrimmage, but the line of scrimmage stops being a thing after a few yards when things break down.
Nebraska came into this game allowing a Big Ten-worst 13 rushes of 20 yards or more this season. The Wolverines’ long carry of the day was a 17-yarder by freshman CJ Stokes.
The field continues to compress for the Michigan offense. Corum and the offensive line continue to operate exceptionally well, but how much more ground can they afford to lose?
Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh may be thinking the offense won’t be a concern once the offensive line is healthy and Schoonmaker and Edwards are 100% again. But without a dynamic passing game, this team is still limited in what they can do.
The Wolverines getting healthy on offense won’t win them a national title this year, but it might be enough to get them past Ohio State.
And right now, that’s still plenty good enough for the people at Michigan.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Watching Michigan’s defense this season has not been the most informative learning experience. You feel like you have a pretty good idea of how good they are, just like with the Ohio State defense, but the problem with both teams is that every opponent they have faced this season looks like an open mic night for offenses.
“Coming up to the stage tonight is an offense from Lincoln, Nebraska. Give it up for the Huskers.”
“Wow. Thanks everybody. It’s great to be here. I have a lot of jokes about living with my mom written down on this piece of paper here. [Uncrinkles paper] Joke one…”
Nebraska was down to backup quarterback Chubba Purdy, who completed 6-of-12 passes for 56 yards. He also rushed for 39 yards on five attempts before leaving the game with an injury. Backup backup Logan Smothers then came in and completed 4-of-8 passes for a whopping 15 yards.
I don’t recall off-hand how many times Michigan has knocked a quarterback out of the game this year, but it feels like more than a couple.
But then the Wolverines took it one step further and also knocked out offensive coordinator Mark Whipple who got rolled up on while standing on the sideline. The Huskers then had to go to their backup playcaller. That’s the kind of year it’s been for everybody else in the Big Ten.
The Nebraska offense hit one play all game long, and that was a 30-yard reception by Marcus Washington over cornerback DJ Turner. Other than that, you couldn’t even hear the muffled screams.
This was not the same Nebraska offense that rose to be the 86th-best offense in the nation. It was a far cry from that bastion of third-and-sevens that we had come to know and tolerate.
The Wolverine defense isn’t even out on the field enough for anybody to have monster numbers. They had two tackles for loss — both sacks. They didn’t tackle any running backs in the backfield, but they held those same backs to 47 yards rushing combined on 17 total carries. The long rush of the day was 13 yards by Purdy.
Nebraska tailback Anthony Grant came into the game averaging 95.3 yards rushing per game. He finished with 22 yards on 11 carries. It was his lowest output of the season.
Freshman cornerback Will Johnson started again and played well as former starter Gemon Green played late in the game. While I’ve been saying Johnson will eventually unseat Green in the lineup, this may have been more about Green’s gradual return from being attacked after the Michigan State game.
Safety Makari Paige was out again this week. He missed last week’s big game against Rutgers as well. It looks like he’s taken over the job from RJ Moten who began the season as the starter. Moten does not have the range of Paige, but nobody has really been able to take advantage of the secondary to this point.
The Michigan Special Teams
There wasn’t much to take away from the Michigan special teams this week. They were fine as usual. Jake Moody hit both of his field goal attempts (30, 43) and they allowed very little in return yards.
Receiver AJ Henning had a long kickoff return of 31 yards, so that was at least notable. He also returned four punts for a total of 11 yards, with nine of those yards coming on one return. Which is much less notable.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that for the tenth time this season, the Wolverines played against a quarterback who should’ve used some PTO time instead.
Michigan’s defense has been far better than anything they’ve seen this season, but the best quarterback they’ve played against is Sean Clifford at Penn State. That’s the same guy that Nittany Lions fans were hoping would get beaten out by a true freshman.
As such, there is still a lot to learn about this secondary.
That doesn’t mean the Wolverines don’t have the best defense in the nation, it just means that neither Michigan or Ohio State has faced a good offense this season, so there’s only so much useful information to go on. If Ohio State is going to tell us everything we want to know about the Michigan secondary, the offensive line is going to have to give CJ Stroud time to throw the ball.
The Wolverine defensive line has just three sacks in non-obvious passing situations this year. They’re going to need to get after Stroud on first and second down when the Buckeyes are throwing the ball. If they don’t, the number of third-and-longs will greatly decrease.
It also means that to this point, it apparently doesn’t matter how many times Blake Corum carries the ball. He’s just going to keep going. He may eventually whittle away down to dust and nubbins, but even as a mass of nubbins, he’s still going to pick up that first down on third and four.
Corum doesn’t take many big shots, but it’s not the big shot that is the concern. It’s just the random blown out tire that happens after a whole bunch of mileage.
Jim Harbaugh could have done a better job of keeping the mileage down, but if he had, Michigan might not be 10-0 right now.
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 — Michigan 27 – Iowa 14
Oct 8 — Michigan 31 – Indiana 10
Oct 15 — Michigan 41 – Penn State 17
Oct 29 — Michigan 29 – Michigan State 7
Nov 5 — Michigan 52 – Rutgers 17 (Rivalry Game)
Nov 12 — Michigan 34 – Nebraska 3
Nov 19 — Illinois
Nov 26 — at Ohio State