Michigan’s non-conference schedule is finally over and we can now all emerge like Andy Dufresne after crawling through three weeks of foul-smelling excrement, gasping for air and letting the pouring rain of the Big Ten schedule wash away the lumpy, caking filth.
America has never been so happy to shower with Rutgers as they are at this very moment.
The Wolverines finished up their contractual obligations by sending Bowling Green home with a nice fat check and a not-quite-as-voluminous 31-6 defeat. Michigan is now 3-0 headed into conference play, scoring a whopping 32 points per game against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green this season.
Saturday night in Ann Arbor, the Wolverine defense once again held an opponent to single digits, while the offense tried its best to be accommodating hosts.
Quarterback JJ McCarthy threw three interceptions and the kick return unit put two footballs on the ground, losing one. The Falcons turned those four turnovers into six points. Had Michigan just turned the ball over 18 more times, Bowling Green would have probably won.
The Wolverines had just 44 plays on offense in this game. You can blame that on the turnovers, or the fact that they were 1-of-5 on third downs, or just an overwhelming sense of temporal apathy. The only time in recent memory they had fewer snaps in a game was in 2011 when they had 39 against Western Michigan, and that game was called in the third quarter because of weather.
I went back as far as the 1997 season and couldn’t find any other Michigan game with as few as 44 snaps. The new clock rule is partly to blame here, but so is Michigan scoring on drives of 4, 5, 1, 4, and 3 plays.
People may also blame the lack of snaps on the three interceptions, but the irony is that those interceptions came on Michigan’s three longest drives of the game. They ended drives of 7, 6, and 5 plays.
Anyway, when you play East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green, this is the kind of minutiae we have to talk about in order to justify such a large ink purchase.
When Michigan Was On Offense
This was JJ McCarthy’s first multi-interception game since the playoff loss to TCU where he threw a pair of pick sixes. He finished 8-of-13 passing for 143 yards. He threw two touchdowns along with his three picks, and he was sacked once.
The first interception was thrown in the end zone and featured a bad route from tight end AJ Barner that allowed a defender to drop into the path of McCarthy’s throw. The other two interceptions, however, can only be pinned on the quarterback.
The second came on a deep throw down the middle with receivers Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson running double posts. The throw went to Johnson and was underthrown. To make matters worse, Wilson was already losing his man as the outside post runner. McCarthy could have simply unleashed a bomb and let Wilson run free under it.
The third interception came on a scramble to the left and a desperation throw down the sideline that was easily intercepted. And there was no need for any desperation. Michigan had a second-and-six from the BG 35-yard line. It was a very bizarre throw.
McCarthy also had a 50-yard touchdown pass to Johnson that was tipped and batted around by the defender. There were five passes in this game that could have been intercepted — and that’s with just 13 total passes thrown.
The entire story with this game now comes down to whether or not this was just a bored and overconfident quarterback. I think there is merit to that thought, but what this performance has done is let everyone know that while JJ McCarthy may complete 87% of his passes 60% of the time, he’s still liable to leave a few gifts on your front porch just like last year.
But that doesn’t mean you can rely on it. Because as we’ve also seen, he will beat your ass like you took a swing at his dog.
It should also be noted that all three interceptions came while McCarthy was being pressured. So rather than wait for him to screw up, it’s best to just try to make it happen. And then don’t forget to keep contain.
The Wolverines ran the ball about like they have all season. They went for 169 yards on 31 attempts. Blake Corum led the way with 101 yards rushing on 12 attempts. He started the game with a 54-yard kaleidoscope of moves, but went just 47 yards on his final 11 carries.
Donovan Edwards rushed for 50 yards on nine attempts. He began his evening with an end around, which is an interesting way to try to get him going. He was also the wildcat QB a couple of times. (Yes, he will throw a pass against Ohio State this year.)
After gaining 21 yards on his first two carries, his final seven went for just 29 yards. Bowling Green held Michigan to 19 yards rushing on eight attempts in the second quarter. The first quarter was the only quarter where the Wolverines averaged at least 5 yards per carry, and that was mostly thanks to the 54 yarder.
Right tackle Myles Hinton was replaced in the third quarter, but I don’t think that was a performance issue. I think this may have actually been his best game. He was pretty physical at the point of attack. He’s not the most mobile guy, so he can have some issues in space, but I thought overall he was a positive addition for the running game.
When he left the game, Karsen Barnhart moved from left tackle to right tackle, and LaDarius Henderson came in at left tackle. There wasn’t any notable improvement. After the game, acting head coach Sherrone Moore said it was basically just wanting to get other guys some action.
While we may lament the lack of points over these three games, the Wolverines are playing a ton of guys, so I guess that’s something.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Forgive me if we don’t spent too much time talking about a defense that was facing Bowling Green’s second-string quarterback for the first quarter until he left the game with an injury and then the Wolverines were dealing with a redshirt freshman walk-on in his stead.
Sophomore cornerback Will Johnson still isn’t fully healthy. He has essentially been out the entire year. Bowling Green started the game by attacking Keshaun Harris, who has replaced Johnson in the Michigan lineup. Harris was beaten down the sideline for a 30-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.
Michigan’s other starting corner Josh Wallace also got beaten deep, as did nickel Mike Sainristil. Wallace’s receiver was overthrown and Sainristil’s receiver made a remarkable catch. All three of those deep shots took place in the first quarter when quarterback Camden Orth was still healthy. He finished 8-for-11 passing for 91 yards. Hayden Timosciek replaced him and completed 6-of-10 passes for 33 yards with two interceptions.
And thus ends just about any criticism possible of the Michigan defense.
Safety Keon Sabb continues to do a solid job in place of Rod Moore. I still think they’re missing a playmaker without Moore, so when (if?) he does come back, I would expect him to bring some excitement with him.
Rotational safety Quinten Johnson had a nice Moore-like interception on Saturday, covering a good chunk of ground to get to the football.
Michigan finished with three sacks, all of which came in the first quarter.
Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins had a great read on a screen and intercepted the pass down inside the Bowling Green 5-yard line. He also had one of Michigan’s 10 tackles for loss.
The Falcons rushed for 81 yards on 36 attempts. Nine different plays ran the ball into a Michigan defense that surely had better things to do on a Saturday night.
Bowling Green now has the No. 94 offense in the nation.
The Michigan Special Teams
Bowling Green employed a smart strategy of pooching their kickoffs to the up-men. One of which landed in fullback Max Bredeson’s arms and became a lost fumble when he was hit on the return. Another kick went through the arms of defensive end Braiden McGregor, but he was able to retain possession.
Punter Tommy Doman put three of his kicks inside the 20-yard line. Receiver Tyler Morris busted out a 22-yard punt return as Michigan seems to be rotating their punt returners between Morris and Jake Thaw.
Kicker James Turner made his lone attempt — a 42-yarder. All six of Michigan’s kickoffs were touchbacks.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Jim Harbaugh is now free to return to the sidelines on Saturdays. This year’s three-game suspension is now over and he has undoubtedly learned that the crime of burgerlary doesn’t pay.
Can the Michigan offense now begin the process of reaching for its fuller potential?
It’s pretty clear that the Michigan offense has been going through the motions while also trying to solidify an offensive line along the way. It seemed like they were settled on a starting five, but we’ll know more when we see the lineup on Saturday against Rutgers.
It also means that we aren’t going to know what kind of defense Michigan truly has for a long while.
The Wolverines will likely be ranked No. 1 in total defense when they head to Penn State in November. Over the next six games, the Wolverines will face the No. 95, No. 101, No. 112, No. 89, No. 78, and No. 65 offenses nationally.
The only kind of judgment you’ll be able to make based on this schedule is about the Big Ten’s severe lack of offense.
(There are undoubtedly a number of defenses in the Big Ten that are happy the Pac 12 isn’t joining until next year.)
Rutgers currently has the No. 126 passing offense in the nation. They have thrown for 407 yards over their first three games. Nebraska has the No. 129 passing offense, and Minnesota has the No. 123 passing offense. The Hoosiers may as well be an air raid offense with their 65th-ranked passing attack. (A passing attack that completed 9-of-21 passes for 82 yards against Ohio State.)
This is the kind of terrible television schedule we should have expected during the writers’ strike.
Welcome to NCIS: Ann Arbor starring Michael Chiklis and Tiffany Amber Thiessen. It only sounds familiar because it is.
The Road To The Game
Sept 2 – Michigan 30 – East Carolina 3
Sept 9 – Michigan 35 – UNLV 7
Sept 16 – Michigan 31 – Bowling Green 7
Sept 23 – Rutgers (Rivalry Game)
Sept 30 – at Nebraska
Oct 7 – at Minnesota
Oct 14 – Indiana
Oct 21 – at Michigan State
Oct 28 OPEN
Nov 4 – Purdue
Nov 11 – at Penn State
Nov 18 – at Maryland
Nov 25 – Ohio State