Michigan (11-0, 8-0) was involved in their closest game of the year on Saturday, holding off the Maryland Terrapins (6-5, 3-5) for a 31-24 win on the road.
The Wolverines got out to a 23-3 lead, then held on as the Terps became the first team this season to score points in the third quarter against the UM defense. Maryland scored 14 points in the third quarter, making it 29-24 Michigan heading into the fourth quarter.
A grounding call in the end zone late in the fourth quarter on Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa made it 31-24 and gave Michigan their second safety of the game, which is also known as an ‘Iowa Sombrero.’
Saturday was the first time this season that Michigan was in danger of losing a game, which is actually a good thing for the Wolverines as they head into their biggest game of the year in six days.
It was not unlike a year ago when Michigan struggled with Illinois in a 19-17 slog. They didn’t look very good in that game, but it allowed them to taste some adversity before they were doing it in Ohio Stadium for the first time in over two months.
Jim Harbaugh believes this team is battle-tested, but to this point they have only been Testudo-tested. And the test provided plenty of mixed reviews.
We are about to learn a lot about this Michigan football team. And a lot about the last two Michigan football teams as well.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Michigan put up 291 yards of total offense. Amazingly, the only team to put up over 400 yards of total offense against the Maryland defense this year was Penn State, who managed 404 yards of offense, thanks mostly to 240 yards passing from quarterback Drew Allar.
Wolverines quarterback JJ McCarthy threw for 141 yards on 12-of-23 passes, which included one interception and no touchdowns. He was fortunate to only end up with one interception in this game.
He has now gone three games without throwing a touchdown. His hope on Monday was that he has simply been saving them up for this week.
By my count, McCarthy came off of his first read about six times on his 23 pass attempts. One of those was nearly intercepted on the sideline because it was too late in arriving. Another was thrown into the end zone where a pair of defenders were unable to catch a pass that hit one of them in the hands. The next throw was the aforementioned interception, which occurred in the end zone and kept Michigan from scoring to close out the half.
Of the six-ish second reads, none of them led to a sizable gain. He completed three of those pass attempts, two of which were dump offs. There was also a pass interference called on one of the passes, which was also late.
McCarthy is going to find himself playing against a much different Ohio State defense this season than he did a year ago. The precision will need to be there, but he knows that.
Receiver Roman Wilson left the game in the first quarter after a hit to the head, but Jim Harbaugh said on Monday that he’d be ready to go this weekend.
Without Wilson, tight end Colston Loveland became McCarthy’s security blanket converting two third downs and a fourth down. Loveland is going to be a difficult matchup for the Ohio State defense this weekend, which should make for some interesting defensive decisions from OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Michigan was without starting left tackle LaDarius Henderson, but he is expected back this week. Right tackle Karsen Barnhart again had some rough moments, but not nearly as bad as things were in the first half against Penn State.
The tackles get the bulk of the (negative) attention but the interior has struggled to open lanes for running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.
Michigan rushed for 150 yards on 45 attempts, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Corum went for 94 yards on 28 carries. He had a 12-yarder on his third carry, then nothing longer than seven yards after that. His long carry of the second half was just five yards.
Corum’s success rate on carries was 8/13 in the first half. In the second half, he was 3/15. Together, he and Donovan Edwards had a 4/19 success rate on second-half carries. Edwards rushed for 39 yards on 11 attempts with a long rush of seven yards.
It is an odd thing watching Corum and Edwards be so bottled up the vast majority of the season. It’s been like watching Lennon and McCartney write insurance jingles.
Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take some term life and make it better.
Even as stifled as they’ve been this season, the Buckeye defense will still need to be wary of a rooftop performance on Saturday.
When Michigan Was On Defense
For the first time this year, the Michigan defense faced a quarterback that could stretch the field. Taulia Tagovailoa completed six passes of at least 15 yards (and a couple others of 14 yards). Tagovailoa attacked the Wolverine corners with varying degrees of effectiveness, and with essentially zero fear of what might happen.
Starting cornerbacks Josh Wallace and Will Johnson both gave up deep completions. The Maryland receivers are not as talented as they’ve been in the past, and they certainly aren’t as talented as what Michigan will be facing this weekend, but they had their moments.
Tagovailoa completed 21-of-31 passes for 247 yards, but threw two interceptions, lost a fumble (that was returned for a touchdown), and was also sacked five times.
On the play before he fumbled, he missed receiver Shaleek Knotts, who had beaten Will Johnson down the sideline.
Nickel back Mike Sainristil had both interceptions for the Wolverines. One while he dropped into a zone and was was never seen by Tagovailoa. The other was a bad desperation pass on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter.
The matchup with Sainristil and OSU receivers Marvin Harrison, Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are going to be fun to watch. He may also find himself matched up against tight end Cade Stover again, which worked out for Michigan a year ago.
This was the first time the Wolverines have given up over 200 yards passing in a game this season. This was also the sixth time in 11 games that the Michigan defense held an opponent under 100 yards rushing. Maryland managed 15 yards on 33 carries.
Despite the run being stuffed, the Terps did convert on three 1-yard QB sneaks. Maryland was 4-of-6 on third-and-short situations (3 yards or less), but managed to convert the two misses on the subsequent fourth downs.
The Michigan Special Teams
Michigan linebacker Christian Boivin blocked a punt that turned into a safety for the Wolverines, boosting their second-quarter lead to 16-3.
Punter Tommy Doman was the other special teams star of what was a pretty standard special teams performance by the Wolverines. Doman averaged 47.2 yards on his five punts, putting two of them inside the 20-yard line and one into the end zone. Two of his punts were over 50 yards.
There was nothing worth noting in the return game for either squad.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan bleeds.
People may have thought that last week against Penn State, but that was self-inflicted Nittany Lion blood. You could tell because the spray pattern came from the direction where James Franklin was standing.
But this week it was definitely Michigan’s blood. The secondary was attacked and wounded. The Wolverine offense was timid and inconsistent. Their average starting field position in the second half was their own 44-yard line, and they could only manage to turn that into six offensive points in the second half.
JJ McCarthy was banged up against Maryland, which means he’s only going to be so healthy against Ohio State. The same can be said for OSU quarterback Kyle McCord, who is dealing with an ongoing ankle injury. One bad twist for either quarterback and this game could go sideways.
It also means that Michigan left bloodied and bruised after last year’s Illinois game and it didn’t much seem to matter in the second half of last year’s game against the Buckeyes.
Nobody is completely healthy this time of year, but there is something about this game that gets people healthy enough. This is Mr. Miyagi’s hands rubbing together while being doused with the magic soccer spray. The pain receptors are out of service. They’re gonna have to take the stairs.
Lastly, it means that we finally made it. The Game is just about here. Fifty-two weeks of waiting. It’s the one thing that brings all of us together so that we can remain vehemently apart.
Politics and religion will be eating at the kiddie table this Thanksgiving weekend.
For we will be tending to more serious matters.
The Road To The Game
Sept 2 – Michigan 30 – East Carolina 3 (1-0)
Sept 9 – Michigan 35 – UNLV 7 (2-0)
Sept 16 – Michigan 31 – Bowling Green 6 (3-0)
Sept 23 – Michigan 31 – Rutgers 7 (4-0, 1-0)
Sept 30 – Michigan 45 – Nebraska 7 (5-0, 2-0)
Oct 7 – Michigan 52 – Minnesota 10 (6-0, 3-0)
Oct 14 – Michigan 52 – Indiana 7 (7-0, 4-0)
Oct 21 – Michigan 49 – Michigan State 0 (8-0, 5-0)
Oct 28 OPEN
Nov 4 – Michigan 41 – Purdue 13 (9-0, 6-0)
Nov 11 – Michigan 24 – Penn State 15 (10-0, 7-0)
Nov 18 – Michigan 31 – Maryland 24 (11-0, 8-0)
Nov 25 – Ohio State