Michigan Monday: It’s Time For War

Michigan used their warm-up against Maryland quite well this past weekend, beating the Terps 59-18 on the road.

The Wolverines led 31-3 midway through the third quarter and at that point the body bag should have been zipped up, but Michigan wasn’t quite done with the desecrating.

All told, the Wolverines rushed for 151 yards and threw for 352 yards, giving them a 500-yard day for the fourth time this season and second time in four contests. Prior to this season, Michigan’s offense had produced just one 500-yard game over the previous four seasons.

Maryland had some success running the ball (181 yards) but the talented Terp passing game was held well in check, as quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa completed 19-of-33 passes for just 178 yards. He was only sacked twice, but was harried and hurried throughout the game. The 178 yards passing were 101 fewer than Tagovailoa posted against Ohio State’s defense earlier this season.

The Wolverines scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams for the first time in a game since 2015.

Overall, Michigan remained focused and they accomplished the task at hand despite Ohio State looming on the graying horizon. The Wolverines played well and ultimately dominated a team that has now lost to each ranked team its played this year by at least 19 points.

When Michigan Was On Offense

Quarterback Cade McNamara completed 21-of-28 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and his customary zero interceptions. He was sacked just once.

McNamara’s favored target in this game was freshman running back Donovan Edwards, who somehow caught 10 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a 77-yard wheel route from McNamara. Of Edwards 170 yards receiving, 134 of them came after the catch. He was an effective outlet receiver, I’m just confused why he was targeted so much. Was this something they did to show Ohio State so that the Buckeyes would spend time on it and then never see it? Or was this something Michigan wanted to get a look at before relying on it this weekend against the Buckeyes?

Because if they don’t go back to it, it would seem pretty silly given how effective he was.

Michigan has now had two players catch at least eight passes in a game this season. Edwards was the second, and tight end Erick All was the first in UM’s loss to Michigan State.

Cornelius Johnson and Daylen Baldwin each had four catches and neither averaged over 10 yards per catch. In fact, they were both targeted six times and neither averaged over 7 yards a target. Michigan needs more explosion out of their passing game. They can’t just rely on the running backs and tight ends against Ohio State.

Freshman JJ McCarthy also got some time in this game, completing all five of his pass attempts for 58 total passing yards and a touchdown to Mike Sainristil. McCarthy also ran for a touchdown after putting the ball on the ground following a bobbled snap.

I expect McCarthy to be part of Michigan’s offense against Ohio State but he has to do a much better job of protecting the ball than he’s done in his last three outings where he has put the ball on the ground three times and thrown one interception.

The Michigan running game has been slowing down over the second half of the season and it predates Blake Corum’s absence, which is concerning. Corum didn’t play against Maryland but did dress. Expect him to play against Ohio State unless he’s just not capable. If he’s banged up and still plays, he may end up being as effective as a banged up Kenneth Walker last weekend for the Spartans.

Hassan Haskins led the team with 78 yards rushing on 20 carries (3.9 ypc). After carrying the ball an average of 29 times in the last two games, Haskins was on his way towards doing that again, but it wasn’t necessary. He didn’t have any carries in the fourth quarter and only had five in the third quarter.

Of his 20 rushes, however, 12 went for 3 yards or less. Two of those were 1-yard touchdown runs, so we shouldn’t fault him for not getting more on those two carries. Only six of his other 18 carries went for more than 4 yards. His five third-quarter rushes totaled 11 yards.

Haskins is a good back but Ohio State has faced better and his straight-ahead style isn’t generally where the Buckeyes have had issues. The extra blockers that Michigan will bring, however, could be the difference against an Ohio State defense that is thin on linebackers and more accustomed to playing a nickel defense.

When Michigan Was On Defense

There is a concerning bit of running game being allowed by the Michigan defense of late. Running backs are having success and that’s not a good sign when you’re going to be facing a team like Ohio State with two of the top backs in the conference.

Maryland rushed for 181 yards on 44 attempts, with 16 yards lost due to a pair of sacks. Neither of those sacks were by defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, however, so that practically qualifies as a win for Maryland.

The fact that neither player had a sack and Tagovailoa was still contained is a pretty great sign for this Michigan pass defense. After sacking the Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford seven times and still nearly losing, it’s reassuring to see this level of defense from more than just the pass rush.

That all being said, the differences between the Maryland passing game and the Ohio State passing game are pretty dramatic, and the Buckeyes also have a running game to add to it.

It was good for Michigan to be able to do what they did in this game, but it doesn’t mean much against the six levels of hell higher that CJ Stroud and the Buckeye offense will be bringing to town.

Other defenses have been able to set the tone against Ohio State and Michigan will try to do it as well. They could very well succeed, but for how long?

The Michigan Special Teams

Michigan’s special teams continue to be arguably the best part of this Wolverine team. They blocked a punt and returned a kickoff for a touchdown on a throw across the field from Michael Barrett to AJ Henning. Henning then went 81 yards for the touchdown.

Jake Moody made a 39-yard field goal, which was his only attempt. Six of his 10 kickoffs went for touchbacks. If Ohio State freshman receiver Emeka Egbuka is cleared to play this week after missing last week, Moody would be wise to make every kickoff a touchback because Egbuka continues to lead the Big Ten in kickoff return average.

Brad Robbins put two of his three punts inside the 20-yard line.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that everything that came before today is just film for the coaches and fodder for us.

Ohio State and Michigan are both 10-1 and vying for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. The winner is one game away from the College Football Playoffs.

This season is already a success for Michigan, but it isn’t for Ohio State.

But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines would be satisfied if 10 wins is all they end up with.

There is no team in the nation this year that is too good to lose. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Buckeyes already know this. They won’t come into this game overconfident.

After all, how can you be overconfident about a mountain that you climb every day but never summit? That’s what this rivalry is for Ohio State. A win is not the top. A win is just part of the climb.

Michigan needs to stop looking up at the top of the mountain in disbelief and start climbing.

Losing is part of the climb as well, but at least you’re on the mountain.

It also means that Michigan’s defense and the crowd are going to provide some very new experiences for Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud. Nerves have gotten the best of him at times this season. It will be interesting to see where his mind is early on in this game. What new looks has defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald held back? What NFL looks will catch Stroud off guard?

It’s imperative that Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo get to Stroud, but if they don’t, the other nine Wolverines on the field are going to have to play their best games of the year.

Can they do it? Absolutely.

But even if they do, what does that mean? Is that 30 points for the Buckeyes?

And will Michigan be able to score 31?

We’re not going to have to wait much longer to find out, though this next handful of days may feel a bit like torture.

Rest assured, however, that we are on the cusp of the best day of the year.

Let’s enjoy it for everything that it is, and everything that it could be.

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, 4-0)
Oct 30 – Michigan State 37 – Michigan 33 (7-1, 4-1)
Nov 6 – Michigan 29 – Indiana 7 (8-1, 5-1)
Nov 13 – Michigan 21 – Penn State 17 (9-1, 6-1)
Nov 20 – Michigan 59 – Maryland 18 (10-1, 7-1)
Nov 27 vs Ohio State