Michigan Monday Spying

Michigan Monday: Manifesto Destiny

The Wolverines moved to 9-0 (6-0) on the season following Michigan’s 41-13 win over Purdue (2-7, 1-5) Saturday night in Ann Arbor.

It had been two weeks since the Wolverines were last on the field, having used their open date last week to prepare for the final stretch run of the Big Ten season.

Quarterback JJ McCarthy threw for 335 yards, and freshman receiver Semaj Morgan accounted for 40 percent of Michigan’s rushing yards.

The Wolverine defense held the Boilermakers out of the end zone until the final 18 seconds of the game.

It was an overall impressive performance, and Michigan did it despite having the cloud of the biggest scandal in Big Ten history hanging over them.

I am, of course, speaking of this play.

Michigan will no doubt send a letter to the Big Ten about this play. They’ll probably just send it with all of their other letters being sent there right now.

Blake Corum’s holding penalty is now a top three all-time bad call against the Wolverines. It’s up there with this holding call on Karan Higdon, and my all-time favorite targeting call by former Ohio State quality control analyst Joe Bolden.

This wasn’t the best game that Michigan has played this season, and given the ongoing situation with the UM cheating scandal, it wouldn’t have been fair to expect a flawless performance from the Wolverines.

People like to talk about how this has impacted Michigan’s opponents, but nobody talks about how this has impacted the Wolverines themselves.

Coaches complain anonymously — like cowards — or publicly on their radio showslike cowards — about how difficult it is to change signals or alter their languages or how they get the plays in or about spies attending their games. Those coaches need to cope harder because I don’t see anybody talking about the difficulty of adjusting to no longer having your sign-stealer guy on the sideline.

It’s like we’re completely ignoring that part.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

But Michigan has overcome this adversity two games in a row. And they’ve done so voluntarily. People forget that too. They could be the adult in the room and leave for the ACC or the SEC, but instead they are going to be even more of an adult and stick it out because eventually they are going to find the real killer.

When Michigan Was On Offense

Michigan’s running game continues to struggle, but the game planning is doing everything it can to counter the issues.

On Saturday, the Wolverines rushed for 110 yards on 34 carries, with 58 of those yards coming via receiver sweets. Semaj Morgan took one 44 yards to the house. Cornelius Johnson nearly scored as well on his 14-yarder.

The Michigan running backs, however, combined to carry the ball 27 times for 85 yards (3.1 ypc). Kalel Mullings’ 14-yard carry was the only carry over 9 yards for the Wolverine tailbacks.

Blake Corum rushed for 44 yards on 15 carries (2.9). Donovan Edwards went for 21 yards on eight attempts, and Mullings finished with 20 yards on five carries. The Michigan offensive line is having trouble sustaining blocks, let alone getting to the second level to pick off linebackers.

This was the third game in a row that Michigan was held under 4 yards per carry. It’s the first time that has happened since the 2020 COVID season.

From week to week, Michigan is alternating the use of their receivers and their quarterback to help out the running game. This week it was the receivers, but on any given week you could see JJ McCarthy involved as well. Expect to see him carry the ball when the Wolverines are involved in “matchup games” like Penn State and Ohio State. You have to win by any means, and McCarthy’s legs are an advantage.

McCarthy’s arm is also an advantage, of course. He completed 24-of-37 passes for 335 yards. He didn’t throw any touchdowns or interceptions, and was sacked three times. The 335 yards were a few yards shy of his career high, which came in last season’s loss to TCU. It was the first time he’s gone without a touchdown pass in a game since a 19-17 win over Illinois last November.

Receiver Roman Wilson led the way through the air with nine receptions for 143 yards. He was a constant source of success for McCarthy. The design of Wilson’s usage all over the field is fantastic. Purdue’s man coverage was abused by Wilson’s route running and pre-snap movement.

Even though McCarthy was sacked three times, only one of those was really on the offensive line. The other two came because McCarthy was trying to make something happen. That may be both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. He believes he can turn any bad play into a great play, and he’s generally correct. But he’s also gotten better about how to go after those great plays.

McCarthy has greatly lowered his number of dangerous throws this year, but how much of that is because of the middling defenses the Wolverines have faced this year?

When Michigan Was On Defense

Watching Michigan’s defense this season has given me an opportunity to witness perhaps the worst collection of quarterback performances of my life — and I live in the same state as the Cleveland Browns.

Purdue quarterback Hudson Card has a bunch of ability, but his accuracy hasn’t yet followed him to West Lafayette after he transferred over from Texas. Card went 12-of-28 for 144 yards with a touchdown and an interception to sophomore cornerback Will Johnson. It was the second time he’s completed under 50% of his passes this season, going 13-of-32 for 126 yards against Ohio State.

The Michigan defense harassed him like a national college football reporter chasing the biggest story of the year. He was only sacked once, but that’s credit to his escapability.

With the Purdue game behind the Wolverines, Michigan has now played six of the eight worst passing attacks in the Big Ten. They finish with three of the top four. Fortunately for them, they get to practice against No. 1 every single day.

Outside linebacker/edge rusher Jaylen Harrell was only credited with two tackles, but he was in Card’s mentions all game long. He was officially credited with three quarterback hurries.

Purdue rushed for 125 yards on 29 attempts (4.3 ypc). Michigan allowed a 24-yard carry to running back Tyrone Tracy, and a 21-yarder to Card. The Boilermakers are quite good at getting empty rushing yards because they eventually just flush it all away on third downs. They were 1-of-14 on third downs in this one. They have converted just 9-of-47 third downs over their past three games.

It seems strange to say — especially because I don’t know how much I believe this — but nickel back Mike Sainristil had some moment of lapses in coverage in this game. And he’s had moments in other games as well. It is looking like offenses are trying to go after him a bit, though the quarterbacks they’ve faced to this point haven’t really been accurate enough to take advantage. Card’s best throw of the day, however, went to receiver Deion Burks for a 24-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the game with Sainristil in coverage.

I think Sainristil is an All-Big Ten player, but this isn’t a new development. I also don’t think it’s anything major. If it was an actual issue, the Wolverines would be giving up more than 6.7 points per game.

But when your defense looks great every week, the fleeting moments that aren’t great are going to stick out. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it might me something.

That being said, if you’re going to go after Michigan’s secondary, you better do it carefully.

If Penn State has any hope of beating Michigan, they’ll need quarterback Drew Allar to be more accurate than anybody the Wolverines have played this season. He has the potential to be that guy, but he also has the potential to be as wild as an internet accusation.

The Michigan Special Teams

Tommy Doman put all four of his punts inside the 20-yard line. It’s the second week in a row that he has punted a season-high four times.

Michigan did have a Purdue punt go off of a Wolverine, which was recovered by a Boilermaker. That turnover led to a 32-yard field goal, cutting the Wolverines’ lead to 20-3 in the second quarter.

Jake Thaw had a nice 32-yard punt return. James Turner made both of his field goal attempts (30, 31).

What Does It All Mean?

It means that amid the accusations that Michigan has cheated for the bulk of three years now, the Wolverines themselves kept their focus on the things that they can control.

The noise didn’t bother them. They didn’t look markedly different than they’ve looked all season long. The defense gave up its customary one touchdown, and the offense still proved to be a giant pain in the ass.

It was all business as usual.

But business is about to pick up this week when the Wolverines head to Happy Valley.

Michigan’s season finally begins.

This Wolverine team has really good coaches and really good players, and we already know that it’s not necessary to cheat to beat Penn State, though I don’t know if Nittany Lions fans truly believe that.

Winning at Penn State is never easy, but it’s far from impossible.

It also means that even though Michigan’s coaches and players can’t speak publicly about the ongoing investigation, they can silence some of their critics with the way they finish this season.

The nation will be watching. They will be looking for frauds. The Wolverines, however, will be looking for an opportunity to shut everybody up.

Wins over Penn State and Ohio State without their “sign-stealer guy” this season won’t erase the impact he has had over the years in the minds of many, but it can begin the writing of the next chapter of Michigan’s story.

Whatever that may be.

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 – Michigan 52 – Indiana 7
Oct 21 – Michigan 49 – Michigan State 0
Oct 28 OPEN
Nov 4 – Michigan 41 – Purdue 13
Nov 11 – at Penn State
Nov 18 – at Maryland
Nov 25 – Ohio State

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