Michigan Monday: Back To Abnormal

Michigan hosted Indiana this past Saturday night and easily handled the Hoosiers 29-7.

The Wolverines emphatically bounced back from their loss to Michigan State by going back to doing exactly what they were doing before they ever lost, even though what they were doing before was only prolonging the inevitable.

So why are things different this time?

They aren’t, and I think Jim Harbaugh has accepted that.

At this point in the season Indiana is now on its third quarterback and their offense has regressed more than an argument on the internet. The defense is still fighting but they know their battle has already been lost.

Michigan did what they wanted in this game, which is run it 38 times, throw it 28 times, and then just keep punishing Indiana freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley for making the trip to Ann Arbor.

There isn’t a lot to say this week. I feel like everything that is going to be said has been said in several other Michigan Mondays this year because the only thing that has changed is Michigan going back to what they did before the loss to the Spartans.

As if Jim Harbaugh viewed their offensive approach against Michigan State as the reason they lost, rather than the reason they were up by 16 points late in the third quarter in the first place.

When Michigan Was On Offense

Michigan ran for 188 yards in this one, which was one more yard than the Buckeyes managed against the Hoosiers two weeks earlier, but OSU ran it six fewer times, averaging 5.84 yards per carry to the Wolverines’ 4.95.

Hassan Haskins led the way with 168 yards rushing on 27 carries, scoring once. He had a long carry of 62 yards and was a workhorse in this game because running mate Blake Corum hurt his foot and had to leave the game. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t think it’s serious, but it was serious enough for him to miss most of the game.

Haskins was productive and is always a tough runner, but sometimes the running is tougher than it should be. Haskins is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season. Of his 27 rushes, only six of his carries went beyond his average. Fifteen of his carries went for 3 yards or less.

Michigan will get just about every yard out of Haskins that is available but the problem is that there aren’t always that many yards available. The 62-yarder definitely helps and it’s a bit silly to critique 168 yards rushing, but if you weren’t looking for silly critiques you wouldn’t be here.

Cade McNamara completed 10-of-18 passes for 168 yards with two touchdowns and a sack. He completed a long pass of 50 yards to receiver Cornelius Johnson on an eventual touchdown drive, but Johnson had to slow down for the pass and it allowed the beaten defender to catch up with him and tackle him at the 10-yard line. The Wolverines scored two plays later, but it could have been a one-play drive with the kind of pass that will be needed if Michigan wants to win out.

McNamara didn’t throw any interceptions, but that was mostly because the Hoosiers dropped a pair of gifts, including one to start the game.

Freshman quarterback JJ McCarthy wasn’t so lucky, however. McCarthy has been getting time randomly and in red-zone situations, and that happened again in this one. He completed 5-of-10 passes for 55 yards with an interception. He was sacked twice in his dozen or so dropbacks.

McNamara is working through some sort of an injury or annoyance and has had to miss some snaps the last couple of games. McCarthy took over for an entire drive in this one, leading Michigan to a 62-yard field goal drive in the third quarter.

McCarthy threw an interception on a tipped pass but also threw an ill-advised pass back across his body into traffic while rolling right. McCarthy trusts his arm more than most, and having gotten away with it at least once this season, he’s even more trusting now. Eventually, however, that trust fall is going to land with a thud.

The red zone issues that Michigan has been concerned about lately were again apparent again in this game. The Wolverines scored on all six of their trips into the red zone, but only three of those were touchdowns. And maybe worse yet, they were 1-for-3 in the second half.

Michigan now has five more field goals (17) than any other team in the conference and their 55.56% touchdown conversion rate in the red zone is good for fifth-best in the Big Ten. In conference play, however, the numbers are even more glaring, as the TD% drops to just 46.88%, which is eighth-best overall. And again, their 15 field goals are still five more than anybody else in the Big Ten (Ohio State, 10).

Over the last four games, Michigan has been in the red zone 25 times and scored just 11 touchdowns (44%).

Of note, Michigan ran a little bit of tempo on offense. It can sometimes be like watching somebody walk in high heels for the first time, but it wasn’t without its merit.

There was also the opposite of tempo when Michigan was looking to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 30-yard line. They were trying to draw MSU offside and had the offensive line down in their stances for 25 seconds or so with all kinds of quarterback maneuvering to try and get them to jump. Then at the last possible second McNamara called for the snap but not before Jim Harbaugh had to call timeout to keep the play from being a delay of game.

McNamara is in the game because he knows the game, but he lost himself a bit there and tried to cut it too close.

When Michigan Was On Defense

This was always going to be a game where the Michigan defense was going to look good. Indiana’s offense is like perfect lighting, dark clothes, and a skinny mirror for hiding all of defense’s flaws.

That’s not to say there are a bunch of flaws on this Michigan defense, just that the Hoosier offense was never going to be able to point any of them out with their play.

Pass rushers David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson are the football equivalent of telling a quarterback that he is being sent to collections.

Credit scores are being ruined by these two and there is no forgiveness or amnesty — every quarterback is going to pay.

Ojabo had a sack and a forced fumble. He has now recorded a sack in five games in a row and leads the Big Ten with 8.0 sacks. Hutchinson is right behind him with 7.0. No duo has more combined sacks than these two and they are only getting better.

The best remaining matchup nationally may be OSU’s offensive tackles against Michigan’s defensive ends. The Game usually comes down to which team rushes better than the other, but maybe this time it will be which team pass rushes better than the other.

Indiana ran for 107 yards on 35 attempts (3.1 ypc) and threw for 88 yards on 10-of-25 passing. As a comparison, they threw for 80 yards against Ohio State and rushed for 34.

The Hoosiers’ main weapon was simply throwing dump-offs into the flats. And when soft tosses into the flats are the key to your entire offense, your key isn’t actually a key. It’s more like an ice pick being shoved into the eyes of every person watching.

True freshman linebacker Junior Colson got the start and led the team with eight tackles.

Defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw had a sack and a tackle for loss. Tackle Mazi Smith finished with five assisted tackles.

This was a game where the Michigan defensive line could really be aggressive because there just wasn’t much downside to anything Indiana could counter with.

Defensively, the Wolverines did exactly what they needed to and nearly everything they wanted to. This was the easiest game remaining on Michigan’s schedule and the results revealed as much.

The Michigan Special Teams

It was a pretty nondescript outing by the Michigan special teams, which is to say it was a winning performance and everyone once again did precisely what they were supposed to do.

Jake Moody hit on all three of his field goal attempts, but all three came in the red zone. He hit kicks of 34, 32, and 34 yards.

Punter Brad Robbins averaged 43.5 yards per punt on his four attempts.

Michigan allowed no punt or kickoff return yards.

Cornerback DJ Turner had a 25-yard punt return. It was his first return of the year. He stepped in for regular returner AJ Henning who left the game with an injury.

What Does It All Mean

It means that what happens over these next three weeks won’t necessarily impact Jim Harbaugh’s job, but it is absolutely going to impact how this season is remembered.

Michigan finishes with consecutive road games at Penn State and Maryland before the season finale against the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. Any scenario that includes a win over the Buckeyes will make this season a success for the fans. A 10-2 season with losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, however, probably won’t.

The problem is that Harbaugh is coaching for his job and isn’t coaching for the fans.

If Michigan loses four of its last five, then he’s probably gone. But if he just wins one of these last three — which he should, then I don’t know that this is the kind of season that gets a coach fired.

I mean, it never got Lloyd Carr fired and he did this for like a decade.

It also means that if Michigan’s offense is sputtering this weekend at Penn State, it may be time to pull the band-aid off and just give the offense to JJ McCarthy.

There were a number of times during this game when McCarthy did something he shouldn’t have and I would think to myself, “That’s why he’s not starting.” So now for me to say maybe it’s time to hand the keys over to him seems counterintuitive, but what have we seen from McNamara at this point to think he can lead this offense to three wins over the next three weeks?

Giving McCarthy the job at the half will allow him to fire his shots against Penn State and get that experience. He can then get a start against Maryland before the Ohio State game.

If he is Michigan’s best chance at beating the Buckeyes — and maybe that’s a very big if — pulling the trigger against Penn State seems like the most fair way to do it and still keep McNamara engaged.

Of course, if the offense is just fine against Penn State then Harbaugh should absolutely stick with McNamara until Michigan needs somebody to come in and stretch the field. You can’t bench a guy for doing what you ask, after all.

The entire situation at quarterback is complicated because of the way Harbaugh has approached it. I think he tried to uncomplicate it by trying to keep both players happy and if the worst thing that happened was his 5-star phenom eventually took over, then that’s pretty good.

But now Michigan has a quarterback situation where the quarterback is an accessory rather than a selling point. And the Wolverines don’t have enough receiver talent and can’t run the ball well enough to rely on a game manager to lead them to the promised land.

They need their quarterback to make plays as well. McCarthy does that better than McNamara but maybe not often enough to warrant a move.

It’s a tough spot for Harbaugh to be in and it won’t actually get any better — this season or next — until McCarthy is starting.

It may get worse in the immediate and for that reason I can’t blame him for sticking with the guy he can trust the most right now. But he absolutely knows that McCarthy needs to be the guy next year.

And I’m also betting he was hoping that McCarthy would be the guy at this point this year as well.

Harbaugh is trying.

So at least that’s new.

The Road To The Game

Sept 4 – Michigan 47 – Western Michigan 14 (1-0)
Sept 11 – Michigan 31 – Washington 10 (2-0)
Sept 18 – Michigan 63 – Northern Illinois 10 (3-0)
Sept 25 – Michigan 20 – Rutgers 13 (4-0, 1-0)
Oct 2 – Michigan 38 – Wisconsin 17 (5-0, 2-0)
Oct 9 – Michigan 32 – Nebraska 29 (6-0, 3-0)
Oct 23 – Michigan 33 – Northwestern 7 (7-0, 3-0)
Oct 30 – Michigan State 37 – Michigan 33 (7-1, 3-1)
Nov 6 – Michigan 29 – Indiana 7 (8-1, 4-1)
Nov 13 at Penn State
Nov 20 at Maryland
Nov 27 vs Ohio State