The Wolverine

November 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 72 of 75

NOVEMBER 2021 THE WOLVERINE 73 W ith five regular-season games remaining, Michigan football had already nearly exceeded most expectations for this season. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas and elsewhere had U-M's win total set at just 7.5 after a dismal 2-4 COVID-shortened cam- paign in 2020. Yet the Wolverines won each of their first seven contests, and with their perfect 7-0 record stood No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. However, notwithstanding Michi- gan's excellent start to the season, two of the primary questions concerning the Wolverines in the preseason have not yet been answered. The first is whether Michigan and quarterback Cade Mc- Namara can move the ball when the run game is stalled. The second is whether Michigan's cornerbacks can contain ex- plosive passing offenses. Both have to do with what happens when the ball is in the air, and the an- swers to those questions will determine whether the Wolverines can soar to a Big Ten championship and beyond this season. Offensively, Michigan has not had to rely on McNamara's (or backup J.J. Mc- Carthy's) arm very much. Through Oct. 23, the Wolverines ranked 117th out of 130 FBS programs in passing attempts per game (23.7). Instead, and under- standably so, Michigan emphasized pounding the rock with the best run- ning back duo in the country in Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The Wolverines were the only school to rank in the top 15 in both yards per carry (14th at 5.46) and runs per game (11th at 46.4). To run with such effi- ciency at such a volume has allowed Michigan to stay ahead of the chains and avoid situations where everyone knows U-M has to chuck the ball. But it is unlikely Michigan will be able to do that against every remain- ing opponent. In fact, the Wolverines sputtered on the ground with a season- low 2.55 yards per carry (112 yards on 44 runs) against the only opponent better than 60th in yards allowed per carry (Wisconsin, first). However, Mc- Namara had one of his better perfor- mances, completing 17 of 28 passes (60.7 percent) for 197 yards (7.0 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and no picks plus big throws in pivotal mo- ments. Although McNamara avoided turn- over-worthy plays (responsible for only one giveaway), he was not always sharp with his post-snap reads, and there were too many missed shots down the field that could have given more operat- ing room for Corum and Haskins. Michigan is going to need more of what McNamara provided against the Badgers because the upcoming run de- fenses are no slouches. Ohio State is tied for 18th in yards allowed per carry (3.22), and Michigan State is 22nd (3.27). Michigan's rivals should slow down Co- rum and Haskins somewhat, and put the Wolverines' offense in tougher situ- ations. McNamara (or McCarthy) will have to prove he can hit some deeper shots to keep Michigan going. Defensively, Michigan's cornerbacks in Vincent Gray, DJ Turner and Gemon Green are about to really get tested. Although the Wolverines climbed from 65th in passer rating allowed in 2020 (136.96) to 22nd in 2021 (117.54), thanks in part to new defensive coor- dinator Mike Macdonald's varied cover schemes, they have also been aided by facing mostly stagnant passing attacks. The only passing offense that Michi- gan has seen that is in the top 25 in ei- ther passing yards per attempt or passer rating is Nebraska, which ranked tied for sixth in the former metric (9.5) and 24th in the latter (156.45). The Wolver- ines had by far their worst pass defense effort in that contest, surrendering 291 passing yards on 10.4 yards per attempt and three touchdown throws. Michigan's pass defense will need to play at a higher level in upcoming ri- valry games because both Ohio State and Michigan State like to let it fly down the field to a variety of options. The Buckeyes have arguably the best receiving trio in the country in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith- Njigba, and the Spartans are not too far behind with Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley. They also are some of the most explo- sive — all six of those receivers ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 in yards per catch. As a result, the Buckeyes stood third nationally in both passing yards per attempt (10.8) and passer rating (188.32), while the Spartans were tied for 14th (9.1) and 16th (159.72), respec- tively, through Oct. 23. Gray, Turner and Green will have to demonstrate that they can keep up with threats on the outside while Michigan's defensive front led by Aidan Hutchin- son and David Ojabo try to produce pressure. So although these two significant questions have not yet been answered, they will be very soon. Against Michi- gan's rivals. In undoubtedly the biggest, most important and critical contests of the season. It's up in the air as to what will hap- pen. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT The Air Up There Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. If opposing defenses gear up to stop Michigan's run game, quarterback Cade McNamara will be counted on to make deep throws to keep the U-M offense moving. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - November 2021