Michigan Monday: The Many Saints Of September

I’ll apologize right now for not spending too many words on this week’s Michigan Monday because what else needs to be said that Blake Corum hasn’t said himself with his running.

I enjoy writing Michigan Monday and watching Michigan football, but I don’t necessarily enjoy trying to find time to watch an absolute blowout that doesn’t really tell us anything new.

Michigan moved to 3-0 on the season with Saturday’s 63-10 win over Northern Illinois, and it’s okay that we didn’t learn anything new. This game was merely confirmation, which is all head coach Jim Harbaugh is looking for at this point.

The Wolverines did everything they were supposed to do against the Huskies and then they kept doing it. Nothing was learned that we didn’t already know, but the only things that could have been learned from this game were bad. The fact that there was nothing new is a very good thing.

Michigan is leading the nation in rushing right now (350.3 ypg) for the first time — I’m guessing — since Bo Schembechler was coaching.

Back in 2010 with Denard Robinson, Michigan was second in the nation in rushing (331.3) yards per game in September contests, but that number dropped to 219.8 yards in October games and 202.3 yards in November games.

Nobody expects the Wolverines to continue rushing for 350 yards a game this season, but will they be able to impose their will against conference foes well enough to control the line of scrimmage? No matter what we’ve seen at this point, we don’t know how well the Wolverines are going to do in Big Ten play.

But the idea that a collapse always happens for Michigan after September isn’t really a reason why this team will do the same.

And anyway, the only question that matters here is can they run against Ohio State?

And after the Buckeyes allowed 428 yards passing to Tulsa, is anybody all that confident that the OSU defense will be able to handle a somewhat-muted Michigan passing attack?

When Michigan Was On Offense

Eleven different Wolverines carried the ball, led by Blake Corum’s 125 yards on 13 carries. Corum became the first Michigan running back with three-straight 100-yard rushing games since Fitzgerald Toussaint did it late in 2011.

Overall, the Wolverines rushed for 373 yards on 48 attempts, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. They finished with eight rushing touchdowns. They remain undefeated all-time when rushing for at least eight touchdowns in a game.

Hassan Haskins did his thing with 56 yards on nine carries.

True freshman Donovan Edwards impressed with 86 yards rushing on eight carries. That includes a 58-yard touchdown run that showed incredible patience and then an elite burst through the line of scrimmage. He looks special, but the fact that he’s only getting cursory touches right now tells you all you need to know about Corum and Haskins.

The Wolverine offensive line continues to dominate and overmatch their opponents. This time they also played just about everybody. Nineteen offensive linemen played in the game. I don’t know if that’s all of them, but if somebody didn’t play in that game, they may have missed their window.

Michigan also played five quarterbacks, 13 receivers, seven running backs, and eight tight ends. They played five different left tackles, for crying out loud. A few of those guys may have been contest winners, I’m not sure.

It wasn’t all good news, however. Case in point: Michigan currently leads the nation with seven plays from scrimmage of 50 yards or more. That might sound good, but you can’t keep relying and surviving on 50-yard plays all season long. You’re eventually going to need a few 20-yard plays to burn the clock and give your defense a break here and there.

Remember, the Wolverine defensive line is thin. They can’t keep being sent out onto the field after two-play touchdown drives. Blake Corum needs to settle down and take a knee here and there after like 30 yards. Be smart!

Quarterback Cade McNamara completed 8-of-11 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He clearly read last week’s Michigan Monday because he took at least three shots down the field. It was good to see the fearlessness and confidence in his receivers to go up and make a play against a defender. That play-making never quite happened, but Cornelius Johnson did run under a perfect deep ball for an 87-yard touchdown.

It’s hard to throw any shade at McCarthy for his performance in this game. When your offensive line is dominating like this and throwing opposing defenses out of the club on a routine basis, all he has to do is sit back in the VIP section and enjoy the show.

I continue to like what Michigan is doing with their jet sweep actions. Especially a fake jet sweep to Daylen Baldwin that was going to be a wheel route to Baldwin had McNamara not been facing immediate pressure up the middle. Slot receiver AJ Henning is legit and he’s going to be a problem for the Big Ten over the next three years.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Michigan’s defense held Northern Illinois to 46 yards passing and 161 yards rushing. They enacted revenge on NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who beat them in Ann Arbor last year when he was leading the Michigan State Spartans.

Lombardi had no other little brothers to help him in this one and it showed.

The Wolverines ran a lot of players in and out of this game. There’s not a lot to talk about because this was a pretty bad offense that Michigan faced.

I do think this was cornerback Vincent Gray’s best game in a long, long time. He wasn’t really tested deep but he triggered well on short passes and tackled well. It was good to see and was no doubt a confidence booster.

My main takeaway from this game was that there still wasn’t much of a push from the Michigan defensive front. Northern Illinois rushed for 161 yards but it was meaningless. Lombardi picked up 45 of those yards on a read keeper when Michigan was up 63-3 in the fourth quarter.

But you rarely saw the Michigan defensive line pushing the Huskies offensive line backward. There wasn’t much penetration throughout the game. A couple of times, defensive tackle Chris Hinton could be found about 10 yards downfield for some reason. The defensive line will be a concern for probably the next three years. Michigan will have to work around it.

Fortunately for the Wolverines, Northern Illinois wasn’t equipped to take advantage of any of Michigan’s perceived areas of weakness.

It was good to see a bunch of guys play in the front seven. And as I said on our Michigan Monday podcast, I also like that they stuck with backup safeties Makari Paige and Rod Moore through the second half. Those two guys need to continue to get reps to help the safety depth grow.

Eleven different Wolverines carried the ball, led by Blake Corum’s 125 yards on 13 carries. Corum became the first Michigan running back with three-straight 100-yard rushing days since Fitzgerald Toussaint late in 2011.

The Michigan Special Teams

The Michigan special teams continue to be really, really good. There were a couple of mistakes, but we can chalk that up to the fact that the Wolverines played anybody who was wearing a blue uniform and sometimes that can create issues.

Michigan had a holding call on a punt return, a roughing the kicker call, and they had two guys wearing the #1 jersey on a Northern Illinois punt that gave the Huskies the ball back, which turned into NIU’s only touchdown drive. But holding that against them would be like criticizing TreVeyon Henderson for his two fumbles and facemask penalty when he was running for 277 yards against Tulsa. Is it meaningless, no? But it’s okay to focus on the vast majority of positives.

One of those positives for Michigan is their return game which is getting more and more dangerous. Receiver AJ Henning returned five punts for 70 yards, with a long of 32 yards. He looks like a threat to bust one, though NIU’s special teams and overall discipline seemed pretty lacking.

Michigan didn’t punt in this game. The last time they didn’t attempt a punt in a game was Maryland in 2016.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that Michigan is looking like a very real threat to end their eight-game losing streak to Ohio State. Of course, the real decider there will likely be the Buckeye defense rather than anything going on with the Wolverines. And right now, there’s plenty of reason for Ohio State fans to be concerned.

Michigan is absolutely doing all of this against three not-very-good teams, but they’re doing it with aplomb. Nobody criticizes guys in a dunk contest for not having a defender to dunk on. It’s kind of the same thing here.

At some point, however, the Wolverines are going to have to jump over a car.

It also means that the non-conference shenanigans are over. The Big Ten schedule now gets underway and they begin with hated rival Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights took the Wolverines to triple overtime last year, so both teams will be looking to prove a point in this game.

Rutgers has a pretty middle-of-the-pack run defense, but this will still be the best test yet for the Michigan offense.

I still fully expect Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins to be productive. I’m fully bought in on both of those guys. This isn’t Karan Higdon struggling to eek out 5 yards per carry.

And we still know very little about the Michigan defense other than Aidan Hutchinson will be an issue for everyone this year.

Let’s see how the Wolverine run defense does against a Rutgers offense that rushed for 50 yards against Syracuse in week two. That will be our measuring stick. Quarterback Noah Vedral isn’t spectacular but he can put some things together. Not unlike Rocky Lombardi last year.

Michigan will be fine against Rutgers. Just how fine, however, will be the real story.

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 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