After handling business in Week 1, the Michigan Wolverines return to the Big House this weekend to take on the UNLV Rebels.
Staff members gathered ‘round yet again to answer some questions heading into Week 2 on this week’s Maize n Brew Roundtable.
Michigan whooped ECU, 30-3, at the Big House to open the season. It was a bit underwhelming outside of J.J./Roman Wilson. How important do you think a go-to connection like that is for McCarthy and Michigan’s offense this year?
Von: I believe it’s of the utmost importance. Michigan has never had a QB/WR connection that took its offense over the top. We all know the running game is incredible, but having McCarthy have a go-to wide receiver? That could be what Michigan needs to go where it hasn’t been in two trips to the CFP — the National Championship.
Nick: Very important. We saw how last year Ronnie Bell was that go-to guy for McCarthy, and for games where the rushing attack isn’t working, Michigan is going to need another outlet. Roman Wilson is a guy that offers plenty in the way of route running, hands, and run after the catch, so he’s definitely a guy McCarthy should be comfortable hitching his wagon to when it’s time to air it out.
Andrew: It is a prerequisite for sustained success in November, December, and January. An established receiving threat will help balance the offense, open things up for other receivers, and make this offense unpredictable and dynamic.
Matt: Not important. I believe that we’ll see a healthy dose of JJ spreading the ball around to both Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson, as well as even Colston Loveland. I think there’s still a chance that we see Roman lead the team in receiving, but that the end total won’t be far enough from the other receivers to be considered the “go-to” receiver.
Adam: Its huge. The knock on McCarthy and the Michigan offense last year was there wasn’t an established passing game, and the question was if they could win if the running game was shut down. They proved they could with Ohio State before Edwards broke out late, but they need to show more consistency. Hopefully that can loosen up teams who are thinking of stacking the box and Corum and Edwards will get even more holes.
Now to the bad. It wasn’t a necessarily great start to the season for the OL or pass rush. The OL didn’t open up holes for Corum/Edwards for most of the day, and the edge rushers (and defense as a whole) didn’t compile a single sack. What is more concerning moving forward for you if these woes continue?
Von: I’m not worried about the offense line whatsoever. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, so I won’t be freaking out about them anytime soon. It’ll also be great to have Sherrone Moore back on the sidelines, so those issues should be corrected in the moment. As for the pass rush...it’s a bit concerning. ECU did everything possible to get the ball out of its quarterbacks’ hands quickly, but you’d still think they would have generated at least one sack. Kenneth Grant got close a couple times, as was Kris Jenkins, but I want to see these guys finish the play this weekend against UNLV.
Nick: I’m not too concerned about it right now. The pass rush and offensive line have been dominant over the last few years, so I won’t freak out if they have one bad game, especially if it’s the first game of the season. If the struggles continue, though, it might be time to hit the panic button. To me, I think the offensive line would be a bigger concern if their struggles continue, simply because they will be key to stopping the dominant defensive lines of Michigan’s best opponents in Penn State and Ohio State.
Andrew: Neither, to be honest. The offensive line was breaking in two new players — Drake Nugent and Myles Hinton — and had a third — Karsen Barnhart — switching to the left side. Chemistry is everything, and these guys have to develop it through live reps against players other than teammates. Furthermore, Michigan’s offense made a concerted effort to rarely run the ball on the edges, run with McCarthy at all, or run any RPOs. Why? There is no need to open up the playbook that much for a glorified preseason. Once this offense is operating at full capacity during the Big Ten schedule, the run game will inevitably progress with it. Lastly, the unit was without Sherrone Moore on the sidelines due to a university-imposed one-game suspension. If Moore had been there, several issues would have cleaned up in the moment.
To the defense! This one is slightly more concerning. East Carolina did a great job game-planning for Michigan’s attack and barely took more than two seconds from snap to throw. This effort to get rid of the ball quickly made getting home on sacks nearly impossible, but despite ECU’s focus on getting rid of the ball quickly, the talent gap should have allowed the Wolverines to generate at least one sack.
Matt: The edge rushers not compiling a single sack is troubling to say the least. Credit to Mason Garcia for his ability to escape a collapsing pocket, but after all of the emphasis on the improvement to the pass rush during the offseason, this is not something you like to see against a non-conference opponent.
Adam: I am not worried about the offensive line yet, as East Carolina stacked the box and were running a lot of blitzes and stunts. Yes, they didn’t open up a lot of running holes, but they pass protected well despite the Pirates bringing seven guys more often than not. The defense is also not a worry — it would be great to get sacks, but they gave up just three points and, until late, had only let the Pirates cross the 50 twice. I’ll take that over more sacks any day.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The UNLV Rebels come to town this weekend for another, let’s face it, non-conference matchup that could turn into a blood bath. What are you most looking forward to seeing in Week 2?
Von: I hope to see a bit more success on the ground and getting to the quarterback. I’m not sure how much success we’ll see from the pass rusher this week in the sacks category due to how UNLV runs its offense, but this is a get-right game for Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. UNLV’s defense is downright BAD, so you’d expect Michigan’s top running backs to get back on track in this one.
Nick: I’m looking forward to watching J.J. McCarthy and the passing attack once again. While I liked what I saw in Week 1, it’ll be important to see if the passing attack can repeat its success, especially if the Wolverines continue to struggle running the ball. Roman Wilson had a career game, too, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s more of the same, or if they spread the ball around and feature guys like Colston Loveland or Cornelius Johnson more. I’ll also be interested to see if Sherrone Moore’s return shores up the offensive line at all.
Andrew: The discipline of Michigan’s linebackers, safeties and edges against UNLV’s “Go Go” offense. UNLV offensive coordinator Brennan Marion runs a unique style of two or even three running backs in the backfield to create misdirection and numbers advantages. Think, Navy’s triple option, but in a spread format. Defensively, Michigan will have to be sharp between the ears because Marion is going to throw the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and everything he can at the Wolverines. On offense, with the return of Sherrone Moore, I want to see the offensive line dominate. UNLV’s defense is flat-out bad, and Michigan should be able to score at will against the Rebels.
Matt: Looking forward to seeing Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards return to normal form. ECU did everything possible to take away the run in Week 1, and I think we’ll see the both of them start to look closer to their explosive selves next week against the Rebels.
Adam: McCarthy to continue his hot start. He looked sharp in the first game, as he picked up the running game that was having trouble finding holes. Was it just a one game thing, or is this how well McCarthy will play all year?
The Wolverines were down multiple starters last weekend, including Rod Moore and Will Johnson. Do you think the injured players should sit out until the Big Ten slate, or do you think there is more to gain out of getting snaps regardless of the opponent?
Von: If they aren’t 100 percent, sit them. There’s no reason to trot out Johnson and Moore if they aren’t fully healthy. I was very impressed with what I saw from Keon Sabb, so it’d be nice to get him some more reps before being relegated back to a reserve role.
Nick: It’s always good to have your best guys out on the field, but I wouldn’t rush them back if they’re not 100 percent healthy. Although Moore and Johnson didn’t play in Week 1, it didn’t have much of an impact on the final score and it was nice to see guys like Keon Sabb and Keshaun Harris get some experience. These guys getting reps is important for developing depth, so I don’t mind seeing the backups continue to play against weaker opponents, especially if they’re playing well.
Andrew: This feels like a case-by-case basis. I personally believe snaps are important to adjust to the feel of the game and develop positional unit cohesion, but honestly, Michigan can win its remaining two games even without Rod Moore or Will Johnson. Expect some players to return this weekend and others to sit out and reassess before Bowling Green.
Matt: After watching the performances that were turned by guys like Keon Sabb, Keshaun Harris, Quinten Johnson and Zeke Berry, it might not be the worst decision the Michigan coaching staff has ever made to rest Johnson and Moore a bit longer. All four out-snapped the majority of their teammates and played admirably.
Adam: They need to get out and get snaps. Don’t rush them, but they need to play. Game reps are more important than practice snaps. They would be fine if they miss the non-conference games, but I would love to see them out there before Big Ten play starts.
Michigan is favored by 37 points in this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you think they cover the spread, and what will the final score be?
Von: I learned my lesson in Week 1 — the Wolverines have NO interest in scoring a ton of points if they don’t have to. I thought they’d cover the 36-point spread last week, but weren’t even close. I have them winning, 42-14, but not covering the spread.
Nick: I think they’ll cover the spread and win, 52-7. UNLV rolled to victory last week, but it was against an FCS opponent and they still surrendered 409 total yards. Look for the Michigan offense to eat once again.
Andrew: Stay away. Michigan proved it does not care about running up the score against East Carolina and as soon as this one is in hand, the Wolverines will coast. UNLV has an explosive rushing offense, but its defense will be overwhelmed. Michigan takes this one 45-14.
Matt: Yes, I think Michigan covers (barely). The effort to stay healthy will likely prevent the Wolverines from scoring 10 touchdowns, but still expect a dominant showing, 48-7.
Adam: That is a huge line and it is so hard to predict. I do think the offense will be looking to be more efficient this Saturday and will put up some points against a UNLV team that does not have a great defense. I think they cover, but barely, 49-10.