Jim Harbaugh’s dream season is now two games deep as the Wolverines are sitting at 2-0 following a decisive and never-really-in-doubt 31-10 win over Washington Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
Michigan was pretty much able to do everything they wanted to do, but they fell just short of my 34-7 prediction, so there’s still some work to do for the Maize and Blue.
Washington came into this game following a week one loss to Montana despite the Huskies being 22-point favorites, so the first thing we shouldn’t do is make too much of this Washington football team.
But it’s still okay to be impressed with what Michigan was able to accomplish throughout portions of this game.
The Wolverines outrushed the Huskies by 275 yards. I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that Michigan hasn’t lost more than one game in school history when they have outrushed an opponent by 275 or more.
Thanks to a pair of Wolverine runners topping the 100-yard mark, Michigan moved to 28-1 under Jim Harbaugh when they have a 100-yard rusher. The lone loss? Last year against Penn State in their sixth game of the year. Hassan Haskins went for 101 yards in the Wolverines’ 27-17 loss at home. Being satisfied with their success at the 6-game mark, Michigan respectfully declined to play any further games after that.
When Michigan Was On Offense
For just the third time in a decade, Michigan has rushed for 300 yards in back-to-back games. The last time was 2017 when they double-dipped on Rutgers and Minnesota. The only other time they did this in the past 10 years was in 2012 against Purdue (304) and Illinois (353).
Saturday night, the Wolverines rushed for 343 yards on 56 attempts (6.1 ypc). Blake Corum went for 171 yards on 21 carries (8.1 ypc), with a long of 67 yards. He scored three touchdowns. Corum is now second in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 141 yards on the ground per game.
The Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher (112.5 ypg), Hassan Haskins, posted 155 yards on 27 carries. He now has 40 carries on the season and has yet to be tackled for a loss.
Michigan’s run blocking was fantastic in this game and right now there is a tremendous rhythm with Corum and Haskins. Those two are more patient than a saint with nowhere to be. They are allowing the lanes to develop and they’re hitting them right on beat.
Corum continues to be a dynamic and explosive playmaker, while Haskins is a brute. Last week I called Corum a ninja and Haskins a pugilist. I think I’m going to alter that and just start referring to them both as Bloodsport. Corum is Frank Dux and Haskins is his buddy that played Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds.
The truly impressive part about all of this is that they dominated Washington up front and ran for whatever they wanted, all while they couldn’t throw the ball with any consistency.
One week after completing 9-of-11 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Cade McNamara backslid quite a bit, throwing for just 44 yards on 7-of-15 passing.
At one point in the second quarter, McNamara was 4-of-10 passing for 27 yards … with a long completion of 33 yards to Cornelius Johnson.
Of McNamara’s 15 passes on Saturday, only one went more than 10 yards downfield. Half of the 44 yards passing on Saturday came from yards after the catch.
Because of a couple of deep shots to Ronnie Bell in the opener, I didn’t really look all that closely at where McNamara’s throws were going. After two games, however, it sure looks like Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want McNamara throwing the ball too far downfield. Or even forward.
McNamara has thrown 26 passes this season. Eight of those throws have been behind the line of scrimmage and two of them have been right on the line of scrimmage. He’s 9-of-10 passing this season on throws that don’t go beyond the line of scrimmage.
On passes that go at least 1 yard downfield, he’s 7-of-16 passing. Oddly, he’s 2-of-8 passing on throws between 1 and 5 yards downfield. He’s 3-of-5 on throws between 6 and 10 yards downfield, and 2-of-3 on throws more than 10 yards downfield.
If this isn’t proof that they need to unleash the McNamara Era and let this man throw the ball down the field, I don’t know what is! (The exclamation point indicates sarcasm.)
I do wonder how much of Michigan’s passing game this week was a response to the Ronnie Bell injury. It’s clear he was their main downfield threat. That now becomes Cornelius Johnson. The rest of the receivers don’t have a ton of catching contested throws downfield, nor do they have the size and strength. Daylen Baldwin may have something to say about that, however.
Overall, it was just a very meager passing attack. It’s not like Michigan was afraid to throw it, however, because McNamara threw it nine times in the first quarter. Then they figured out that Washington’s defense was more inviting than an empty bounce house with nobody watching, so they stopped doing what wasn’t working and kept doing what was.
When Michigan Was On Defense
One week after scoring seven points against Montana, the Washington Huskies went and bettered that number by scoring 10 against the Wolverines. Michigan held them to 50 yards rushing, which was 15 yards better than what the Griz did to Washington. The Huskies did have a better day through the air against Michigan, throwing for 293 yards against the Wolverines, compared to just 226 yards in the opener against Montana.
I said all of that to say this — Michigan’s defense was pretty good, but there is something very, very wrong at Washington right now. The Husky running game is about as dangerous as a Jell-O machete and three times sweeter.
Husky quarterback Dylan Morris completed 20-of-37 passes for 293 yards and one touchdown. The Wolverines sacked him four times and were after him for most of the game. But Morris still made some plays against the UM secondary.
Three different receivers had catches of at least 25 yards, so the secondary continues to be an area of concern. The defensive backs did have five PBUs on the night, so they also had their moments.
The pass defense, however, starts up front with defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and he was again fantastic in this one. He finished with 2.5 sacks but had more hurries than that and was just a constant annoyance for Morris all game long. He’s like a human cowbell.
Linebacker Josh Ross led the team with 11 tackles. He’s been solid this season. I’m still waiting to see more from new starter Nikhai Hill-Green next to him, but he’ll get his chances in October.
Michigan played quite a bit of depth up front, but they also knew they could. Will they have that same comfort and confidence when they head to Madison in three weeks? Maybe they can if they keep at it over these next two games against Northern Illinois and Rutgers.
This game was not much of a test for the Michigan defense, but they have also failed these “not-much-of-a-test” games in the past. This one was was never a problem for them. Even when it was close, there was still complete calm. Fans and onlookers may still be waiting for the bottom to drop out, but you didn’t see any of that from the Michigan coaches Saturday.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the weeks to come. We’ve all seen too much at this point to just forget everything we’ve ever learned about Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines.
The Michigan Special Teams
For the second week in a row, the Michigan special teams were pretty fantastic. Linebacker Michael Barrett picked up a first down on a direct snap fake punt from UM’s own 30-yard line. The Wolverines were only leading 3-0 at that point, which should give you some idea of Jim Harbaugh’s current temperament.
Kicker Jake Moody drilled a 52-yard field goal and Brad Robbins averaged 46 yards on his four punts. Michigan allowed one punt return for 4 yards and one kickoff return for just 11 yards.
Blake Corum returned two kickoffs for 49 yards and Caden Kolesar had a 20-yard punt return. Kolesar is a pretty aggressive returner which may provide for some exciting and distressing moments for Michigan fans this season.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Jim Harbaugh is feeling good, and when Jim’s feeling good, everybody’s feeling good. He’s going for it on fourth down, he’s faking punts, and his defense is stopping people without having to send six blitzers for no other reason than habit.
My concern, however, is that feeling good could lead to feeling complacent. Like Michigan drawing up a play in the back of the end zone for former offensive lineman Joel Honigford who is now a tight end. By all means, throw to your tight ends in the red zone, but does it have to be a slow-developing play to the guy who was wearing a 58 jersey last month? Wouldn’t he be better suited to block and provide his particular set of skills by helping to give his quarterback time throw the ball?
This just goes back to my annoyance at Harbaugh when he would call plays for the fullback when he had Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins being underutilized. For instance, Ben Mason was a great teammate, but he had 34 touches in 2018 to Nico Collins’ 38.
Without Ronnie Bell and not much depth at tight end, the Wolverines are going to have to do what they can. I get that. I think they’re still figuring out exactly what that is.
It also means that this Michigan defense has two more games before they have to get ready for the Wisconsin running game. Not that the Wisconsin running game is all that good right now.
Just looking at the Michigan schedule below, they likely won’t be favored at Wisconsin, but they won’t be much of an underdog either.
It’s a lot easier to see a 9-0 start right now than it was before the season, but the future is still pretty hazy because of these first two opponents.
And as Michigan’s performance so far applies to Ohio State, I checked in with handicapper Danny Sheridan and he told me that if the Buckeyes and Wolverines were to play this Saturday in Ann Arbor, he’d have Ohio State as a 10-point favorite.
We’re not even midway through September, but there are plenty of reasons for Michigan fans to be excited about the season.
But we’re also students of history here and each time Harbaugh has started out 2-0, he’s never failed to lose at least three games that season.
The Road To The Game
Sept 4 – Michigan 47 – Western Michigan 14 (1-0)
Sept 11 – Michigan 31 – Washington 10
Sept 18 vs Northern Illinois
Sept 25 vs Rutgers
Oct 2 at Wisconsin
Oct 9 at Nebraska
Oct 23 vs Northwestern
Oct 30 at Michigan State
Nov 6 vs Indiana
Nov 13 at Penn State
Nov 20 at Maryland
Nov 27 vs Ohio State