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Position grades for Michigan’s 30-3 victory over ECU

All grades were passing, but two were at the top of the class!

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After the longest offseason in recent memory, the Michigan Wolverines are undefeated following a dominant 30-3 victory over East Carolina. In a game that never felt close even when the score was 0-0, several position groups stood out — for one reason or another — for the Wolverines.

If every game is a test, every game needs some grades. Let’s get to it.

Quarterbacks: A-

As a passer, J.J. McCarthy was excellent completing 26-of-30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns. The passing offense has not looked this fluent at Michigan in years, and it is a welcomed sight. However, in relief, Davis Warren didn’t bring much more than a pulse in the fourth quarter, and McCarthy has to be dinged for the fumbled fourth-down exchange with Donovan Edwards at the goal line.

Running backs: A

Initially, I gave the running backs a “B” here because this was a B-level performance by the established standards of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. The two stars combined for a modest 110 rushing yards and one touchdown and the room’s impact is even less when you factor in the mediocre production of Kalel Mullings, CJ Stokes and Benjamin Hall.

However, Corum is back and looks like the star he was before he limped off the field in Week 11 last season. His return alone is deserving of nothing less than an “A.”

Wide receivers: A+

Have a day, Roman Wilson! The Flying Hawaiian finished with six receptions for 78 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first U-M receiver with three receiving touchdowns in a game since Nico Collins in 2019.

Cornelius Johnson chipped in with five catches and 71 yards, but numbers were secondary in this performance by the receivers. Wilson and Johnson led a group that consistently gained separation and looked completely in sync with their quarterback. In order for this offense to take that vaunted next step this season, a performance like this was required.

Tight ends: B+

It was a relatively quiet day for the tight ends. Colston Loveland finished with four catches for 57 yards and Max Bredeson chipped in one 14-yard reception, along with several devastating blocks. AJ Barner was held off the stat sheet in his debut aside from one false start, but he will settle in once he makes his first reception in the maize and blue.

Far from a bad day, but nothing to write home about.

Offensive line: C

Maybe it was the absence of offensive coordinator and position coach Sherrone Moore on the sideline, but this was an underwhelming performance from the two-time Joe Moore Award winners. While no sacks were allowed, the unit did negatively contribute to five tackles for loss, and McCarthy had to frequently vacate the pocket and work on the run.

That said, this unit barely broke a sweat while paving the way for a unit that put up more than 400 yards of offense and 30 points. Moore will be back against UNLV and expect the “SMASH” mentality to return with him.

Defensive line: B

The defensive line was consistently smothering against the run, as they demolished blocks and induced chaos in the backfield. The Pirates were only able to grasp success on broken, scramble plays by quarterback Mason Garcia, who led the team in rushing with 36 yards.

However, will a true No. 1 edge rusher please stand up? Michigan finished with ZERO sacks in a game for the third time since the departure of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and this problem needs to find an answer before conference play begins.

Linebackers: A-

Junior Colson, Michael Barrett and Ernest Hausmann all played fast and free in the first game of the season. Hausmann led the team in tackles with six and Colson and Barrett were right behind with five each.

Jimmy Rolder was ruled out with injury, but Jaydon Hood and Micah Pollard stepped up admirably as reserves. However, beyond the established triumvirate, without Rolder, there is a significant drop-off in this room that was exposed a few times late in this game.

Defensive backs: A+

Will Johnson and Rod Moore did not play due to lingering injuries, but it did not hinder this unit in the slightest. Keon Sabb and Keshaun Harris stepped up in place of the injured stars and helped hold the Pirates to 132 passing yards and a minuscule 4.6 yards per pass.

Mike Sainristil nabbed the first interception of the season, and UMass transfer Josh Wallace momentarily tied him — the play was eventually ruled incomplete — with a circus interception of his own. Given the absence of two stars in the back end, this unit was exceptional today.

Special Teams: D+

It took Louisville transfer James Turner one game to do what Jake Moody never did: miss an extra point. Turner would go to split a pair of field goals — made from 50, missed from 52 — but the extra point is what stands out as the single biggest factor with this grade.

Can Turner be trusted to win a game for the Wolverines this season? Let’s just hope it was first-game jitters.

As for the returners, Kalel Mullings was back for kicks, but never got a chance, while Jake Thaw appears to be the starting punt returner. If you are unfamiliar with Thaw, watch the first touchdown of the spring game when McCarthy finds Thaw in the end zone. There is some elite twitch to the senior from Connecticut that could help Michigan find some explosiveness in the return game.