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What we learned from Michigan’s Week 1 victory over East Carolina

While it was only the first game of the season, there were still things to take away from Saturday’s performance.

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

The college football season is officially underway and the unofficial preseason has begun for the Michigan Wolverines. For the second consecutive year, Michigan opens up with three less than formidable non-conference opponents.

Last season, the Wolverines began with Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn. Truly a murderer’s row if the murderer was Paddington chasing you with hugs. This season, Michigan opened with East Carolina on Saturday and will follow that up with UNLV and Bowling Green. Not quite Paddington, but soft nonetheless.

Due to this undemanding portion of the schedule, the Wolverines have dedicated this soft opening to resolving positional battles, protecting its stars and preparing for new looks opponents will use to defend and attack them.

In the 30-3 victory over the Pirates, we learned several things about Team 144 for the present and future.

There are areas to clean up… Because this is Week 1

There is no trophy handed out to the team that looks the best in the first week of the season. Most teams are breaking in several new players and are ironing out communication and chemistry. Michigan is no different even at its best and deepest position group.

On Saturday, the Wolverines looked like a team still figuring things out across both lines of scrimmage. Along the offensive line, the unit was breaking in two new players — Drake Nugent at center and Myles Hinton at right tackle — along with Karsen Barnhart adjusting after switching from right to left tackle.

The front five struggled with communicating protections and assignments against loaded boxes, backside blocking was often on a different page than the frontside, and the tackles struggled with pure speed rushers on the edge. It should be noted offensive line coach Sherrone Moore was absent from the sidelines to remedy these miscues in the moment, but improvement should be consistent with Moore returning against UNLV.

In Formula 1, it is widely said the car that wins the first race of the season would finish last in the final race after every car goes through months of upgrades and improvements. Michigan won today but understands this version won’t win the final game of the season.

Upgrades — namely, Sherrone Moore — are on the way.

Balance and preservation are top priorities… Especially in Week 1

National championships cannot be won in Week 1, but they certainly can be lost. The Wolverines delivered on their promise to incorporate more balance to the offense; in the final box score, the play-calling was dead even at 31 apiece between runs and passes. In addition to the unpredictability this brings to an offense, this also helps Michigan protect two of its most valuable assets.

Running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards — both who have struggled with injuries the last two seasons — only combined for 22 carries in this game. This is the fewest number of carries between the two backs in games where they both started and finished the game.

Keeping with the theme of preservation, quarterback J.J. McCarthy appeared to be under strict “NO RUNNING UNLESS ABSOLUTELY 100 PERCENT NECESSARY” restrictions during this game. There should be no need for the junior signal caller to affect the games with his legs or put himself in harm’s way during any of the non-conference performances.

Hits add up over the course of a season and Michigan is committed to getting its backfield to December in one piece. Michigan wants its best players to play as little as possible these first three weeks, but still get them prepared for conference play. After all, this is the preseason.

We saw the future... Even in Week 1

TCU laid the blueprint last December on how to attack the Wolverines. Offensively, the Horned Frogs relied on quick strikes and a mobile quarterback to move the pocket for slower-developing plays. Defensively, TCU ran combinations of Cover 4 while opposing linebackers flew downhill to clog up running lanes and funneled Michigan’s running backs to their safeties.

East Carolina is well-coached under the guidance of Mike Houston, and he wisely lifted these same concepts for his team on Saturday. Houston likely won’t be the last opposing coach to implement this strategy this season, and it is a benefit to the Wolverines if it isn’t either.

Knowing your opponent’s move before they make it is the key to chess and the key to play calling. The more Michigan is presented with combinations of these coverages, fronts and philosophies, the better prepared they will be when a team of heightened talent presents these same concepts later in the season.