The Wolverine

April 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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30 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2021 BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan features former superstar prep quarter- backs, running backs and pass catchers, along with hulking young offensive linemen that observers love. What it doesn't have — yet — in- volves a productive offense that can overwhelm the pedestrian and hang with the elite. It might, in the third season of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis' system. But there's no guaran- tee when so many questions abound. Who's the quarterback? Will a young, talent-laden offensive line come together to pave the way for Michigan's backs? Is there a down- field threat among the receivers? Will this unit stay healthier than last year, when the loss of its starting offensive tackles and nicked-up quarterbacks helped fuel a 2-4 disaster? The Wolverines weren't as efficient as they'd like to be in last fall's half season. They finished fifth in the Big Ten and 66th nationally (out of 127 FBS programs) in putting points on the board, averaging 28.3 per game. But when your defense is giving up 34.5, it's not enough. Plus, the Wolverines were no better than 11th in the league rushing the football, averaging 131.5 yards per game. They threw it better (250.3), but still finished sixth in the Big Ten. Young, growing talent remains the reason for optimism. How quickly it comes together will help tell the story of 2021. QUARTERBACKS It's been a bit of a soap opera here: As The Position Churns. Two top con- tenders in the summer of 2020 are long gone — Dylan McCaffrey before the season and Joe Milton right after, even though Milton initially won the job. Now it's a three-way battle, un- der the watchful eyes of head coach Jim Harbaugh and new QBs coach Matt Weiss. Redshirt freshman Cade McNamara showed flashes in 2020, and even started a game. He couldn't finish it due to injury, and may have learned a valuable lesson. "As an example of a quarterback who learns something, he probably doesn't take the hit he took against Penn State again," Michigan radio sideline reporter Doug Karsch ob- served. "He can't afford to get hurt. "If it's a fourth-down play, yeah. If it's not, you can afford to throw it away or not take that hit. "Dylan McCaffrey took unneces- sary hits at times. You've got to learn how to not get hit. Cade's not a physi- cal monster, so you've got to preserve and live to play another down." Enter two challengers. Freshman J.J. McCarthy has all the tools, and the leadership qualities, from those who have watched him closely the past few years. Now he has to per- form against the big boys. The door's open, Karsch contends. "Sure — there's no established starter," he said. "The guy that has the most experience in this offense has shown flashes, but nobody has grown roots at that position yet. A guy like J.J. absolutely has a chance. "If he is supremely talented, and a quick learner, and benefits from be- ing an early enrollee, he's absolutely in play." Michigan made an intriguing late addition, taking on redshirt sopho- more transfer Alan Bowman from Texas Tech. He's the most experienced QB the Wolverines will have on the roster — just not here, or under Gattis. "Look, maybe he turns out to be the best of them, I don't know," Karsch said. "That quarterback room had a bunch of empty chairs. They needed somebody. "It looks like he's more than just a warm body. That's kind of a luxury. He wants to compete for this job, there are young kids to go against. In this day and age, you can never count on anybody being around long term anymore. You're coaching to win football games in 2021." OFFENSIVE LINE Injuries forced plenty of movement here last fall. Now it's a matter of who settles in and emerges. Asked his projection for a possible starting lineup along the front wall, Karsch laid it out as follows: redshirt sophomore Ryan Hayes at left tackle; SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS HOW GOOD, HOW SOON? Questions Abound With U-M's Talented Offense Josh Gattis enters his third year in charge of the U-M offense, which ranked 66th nationally last year with 28.3 points per game and 78th in total offense (381.8 yards per game). PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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