Michigan Monday

Michigan Monday: Kill All The Gophers

Michigan went to Minnesota on Saturday night and eradicated the Gophers 52-10.

If the Wolverines’ 2023 season was a horror movie franchise, none of the successive iterations would have been much different than the first, but the last two sequels at least came up with some more creative kills.

The first four movies featured a serial killer who terrorizes college kids by boring them to death. The last two movies have blown through the blood budget by halftime, but that never stopped the gore.

Watching Michigan this season has actually made horror movies more realistic. You may look at the Wolverines and ask how they score 52 points in a game when all they do is walk in a menacing manner towards an opponent. It works for Michael Myers. It shouldn’t work in football.

But just like in the horror movies, Michigan is generally chasing some stumbling buffoons.

The Wolverines have yet to face an opponent who can actually run for their lives without tripping over some random tree root or broken sidewalk. One of their opponents even ended themselves when they tripped and were impaled on a garden gnome. And the gnome’s hat wasn’t even particularly pointy.

Even fish in the barrel think the ease of Michigan’s schedule is a bit much.

But once again, the Wolverines were never threatened. They were never in danger. They never blinked. They did what they were supposed to, and then they did more. All the way down to the white meat.

When Michigan Was On Offense

It is an odd testament to Michigan’s running game that they can have a game like this one where they aren’t necessarily dominating on the ground, but they still rush for 191 yards.

Some of that is thanks to Blake Corum’s 40-yarder, but the Wolverines always seem to find a tension breaker to smash through the silence. Corum finished with 69 yards on nine attempts. Kalel Mullings, who is doing a solid job replacing Donovan Edwards’ production, posted 47 yards on eight attempts.

Edwards again had a quiet day, rushing for 20 yards on four attempts, with a long of just six yards. He does not yet have a rush of 20 yards or more this season. On the season, Edwards has rushed for 177 yards on 51 attempts, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Against Ohio State last year, Edwards went for 216 yards on 22 carries.

Quarterback JJ McCarthy is one of the reasons for the effectiveness of the running game. His ability to keep the ball on reads is going to continue to pay off — at least until he gets hurt. McCarthy had two fantastic touchdown runs in this one, neither of which he should have been able to make happen. He avoided tacklers and got to the corner on runs of five and seven yards. I’ll say it again — in terms of playmaking, McCarthy is the closest thing to USC quarterback Caleb Williams east of the Rockies.

Through the air, McCarthy completed 14-of-20 passes for 219 yards with one touchdown. He was not intercepted and he was not sacked. The Michigan offensive line is getting better, but passing a test against this Minnesota defensive line isn’t exactly the kind of thing that gets the prime real estate on the fridge.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Michigan’s defense is smart, consistent, and dependable. They are the good child. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have to give them a curfew because he knows they’ll come home when the library closes.

But one day, some kid is going to move into their town and introduce them to Rock & Roll and then everything is gonna go to hell.

I’m just not sure if anybody in the Big Ten listens to Rock & Roll.

This may end up being a kid from way out of town, because what we’re seeing from Big Ten offenses so far this season — including Penn State and Ohio State, probably isn’t putting too much of a fear into Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter.

The Wolverine defense is a professional unit that hasn’t played anybody worth putting on a resume, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually do the same thing to everyone they play.

It’s a really smart group. Even something simple like linebacker Ernest Hausmann putting a shoulder into a receiver who was dragging back across the play behind the line of scrimmage on what was going to be a bootleg pass to that receiver. Hausmann threw a shoulder into him and threw the entire play off schedule. He could have just gone after the quarterback instead, but he knew the purpose of the play and he decided to cut out the middle man.

Minnesota’s offensive line pushed the Wolverine front around for parts of two drives in the first half, but that was it. Michigan shut things down like they were in the middle of a restaurant rescue show and Jim Harbaugh found a family of rats behind the deep fryer during a stress test.

“Shut it down! I will not have my steak and milk bistro dreams ended because of rats again!”

(Every week on the show, Jim just tries to convince another restaurant to rebrand as a “steak and milk place.”)

If you haven’t watched Minnesota’s offense this season, consider yourself the envy of the block. Some of us will carry the scars for as long as our skin still crawls.

The Gophers rushed for 117 yards on 39 carries, doing so without their top rusher Darius Taylor, a freshman out of Detroit who has averaged 176 yards rushing as a starter this season. Taylor missed his second game with an injury, and had he been available for this game, Minnesota still would have lost by many touchdowns.

Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis completed 5-of-15 passes for 52 yards, with a long of 35 yards. That 35-yarder was a touchdown pass to receiver Daniel Jackson, who was being covered by defensive back Mike Sainristil. Kaliakmanis opened the game by missing an open receiver on an out route. Unfortunately for him, his pass found cornerback Will Johnson, who took it in for a pick six. Later in the game, safety Keon Sabb returned an interception of his own for a touchdown.

Interestingly, Sainristil is generally Michigan’s nickel back, but he started this game as one of the two cornerbacks. The Wolverines opened the game in a 3-4 alignment with a five-man front. They also had an interesting alignment with three down linemen (all defensive ends) and edge rusher Jaylen Harrell standing up as essentially a gap blitzer. Ohio State fans might better recall this usage as a “Jack,” but mixed in with the Rushmen package (all defensive ends) for good measure.

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The Michigan Special Teams

There was nothing much to speak of with the Michigan special teams, which is generally what you want from your special teams. No news is good news, and anything better than that is great news.

Tommy Doman punted three times for a 42.7-yard average. James Turner hit his only field goal attempt (31 yards). There were no return yards for the Wolverines. They did give up a 4-yard kickoff return, however, so they might want to get back to the drawing board.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that Michigan is really good on defense, pretty good on offense, and has the ability to be great on both sides of the ball at any given moment.

They don’t really make mistakes on defense. They may get out-schemed or out-played because of talent, but you have to “out-” something them because they’re not going to give you anything.

What that means when they face an offense that can complete a forward pass or count to 100 by 5s, we will see. We have yet to see them face any kind of an offensive threat. They have played the Nos. 112, 24, 123, 77, 122, and 108 scoring offenses in the nation. The No. 24 in there was UNLV, so don’t get any crazy ideas. This Saturday they’ll play the No. 113 scoring offense in the nation.

In terms of yards per play, Michigan has faced the Nos. 130, 66, 111, 93, 83, and 122 teams in the land.

This isn’t meant to diminish what Michigan has done on defense, but it could.

It also means that Michigan’s secondary is getting healthier and better. So as the quarterbacks they face get better, the defense is going to be better suited to handle whatever comes at them.

Safety Rod Moore and cornerback Will Johnson have both battled injuries, but both were back in the starting lineup on Saturday. You can expect them to be there the rest of the year. Michigan has gotten great experience at safety for Keon Sabb and Quinten Johnson, so their depth has improved all throughout the secondary.

I would expect Rod Moore to involve himself in Michigan’s ongoing Pick Six Party pretty soon. He’s a playmaker and now that he’s got his sea legs back under him, expect him to start committing some acts of piracy.

The Road To The Game

Sept 2 – Michigan 30 – East Carolina 3
Sept 9 – Michigan 35 – UNLV 7
Sept 16 – Michigan 31 – Bowling Green 6
Sept 23 – Michigan 31 – Rutgers 7
Sept 30 – Michigan 45 – Nebraska 7
Oct 7 – Michigan 52 – Minnesota 10
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

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