The Michigan Wolverines hit the road yesterday for the first time this season to take on Nebraska and its vaunted rushing defense. Entering the game, the Cornhuskers were ranked second nationally (first in the Power Five) in rushing yards allowed per game and yards per carry allowed.
The consensus felt the Wolverines would face a challenge in Lincoln, or face a quarter’s length of adversity. But after just one quarter, it was evident there was no challenge to be found; there was no semblance of resistance to report.
Michigan cruised to victory, 45-7, and rushed for 249 yards against a team that had been allowing less than 50 over the first four games. It was a nearly flawless performance for the Wolverines, who were never penalized and only relented points once the backup’s backups were getting reps late in the fourth quarter.
With a statement this loud, it is no surprise there are a plethora of high grades to go around. Let’s get to it.
J.J. McCarthy was brilliant on Saturday in less than three quarters of work. The junior finished 12-of-16 with 156 yards, two touchdowns, and added another 43 yards and a score on the ground. McCarthy only had four incompletions because of the sustained 20 mile per hour winds, otherwise he might not have missed all afternoon.
Running backs: B+
The raw individual numbers won’t blow anyone away who wasn’t watching the game, but Michigan’s backs were solid against one of the nation’s top run defenses.
With late-season preservation remaining the focus, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards took turns splitting the bulk of the carries, with third-stringer Kalel Mullings spelling for five carries for a thunderous 43 yards and one touchdown. Corum continues to outperform Edwards, but Edwards took massive steps forward on Saturday to show he is close to reclaiming his old form.
Wide receivers: A+
Help, I can’t stop thinking about the Roman
Empire Wilson. Wilson added his seventh and eighth receiving touchdowns of the season, including one that will be a contender for the best catch of the season. After five games and what we have seen so far from Wilson, it’s time to start having the Biletnikoff discussion.
As a unit, the Wolverines had three receivers average over 14 yards per catch and saw former walk-on Peyton O’Leary haul in his first career touchdown reception.
Tight ends: A-
Blocking really needs to show up in the box score for linemen and tight ends. Without blocking stats, the box score for Colston Loveland, AJ Barner and Max Bredeson shows a combined four receptions and 44 yards.
But if the box score reflected this unit’s blocking prowess, it would show countless lead blocks that led to positive yardage, multiple kick-out blocks that opened up holes, and a pass protection so efficient that it rivals linemen.
Offensive line: A
Michigan finally has its starting five. LaDarius Henderson, Trevor Keegan, Drake Nugent, Zak Zinter and Karsen Barnhart will be the group leading this Michigan offense for the rest of the season after an all-around performance against the Cornhuskers.
This unit impressed all afternoon, moving around the stout Nebraska front in run blocking and also putting together their best performance of the season in terms of pass protection.
As the chemistry and communication continue to grow and improve with these five, this game will eventually become the benchmark for a group seeking its third consecutive Joe Moore Award.
Defensive line: A
Michigan’s front was simultaneously an immovable object and an unstoppable force for all but one play. Outside of Nebraska’s garbage time 74-yard scamper, the Wolverines dominated the line of scrimmage, holding the Cornhuskers to only 32 yards on 21 carries. Entering the game, Nebraska was the second-best rushing team in the Power Five averaging 234.75 yards per game.
The Wolverine defensive line racked up four sacks, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception. Braiden McGregor, Derrick Moore and Josaiah Stewart each played their best games of the season, and Michigan’s defensive tackles continued to be the anchor of the defense.
Not to mention, the unit did all of this without starter Mason Graham, who is expected soon. But it wasn’t just the defensive line shutting the water off on Nebraska’s rushing attack.
The luxury of playing behind the best defensive line in college football makes the linebackers’ jobs easier, but this unit continues to be the single most improved from last season to now.
It was a homecoming for Ernest Hausmann, and he and the linebackers did their part to make sure it was an enjoyable one. Hausmann, Michael Barrett and Junior Colson were efficient in their run fits, reliable in coverage and sharp when making tackles in space.
The defensive line dominates the headlines, but the linebackers are the co-authors of domination.
Defensive backs: C
Michigan’s secondary was sleepy on Saturday. The scouting report did not show the Cornhuskers as a viable passing attack, and this led to a lethargic effort in the back end.
Corners were taking exaggerated cushions and were slow to accelerate when covering slants. Safeties were caught ball-watching and frequently hesitated. Thankfully, Nebraska isn’t a potent passing offense and the Wolverines were never too badly beaten.
The good news for the secondary is Rod Moore is getting back to game speed. Moore exclusively worked with the second-team and reserves in this game to help him get his feet underneath him without his inevitable inactivity mistakes hurting the starters.
Next week, God Moore will have risen.
Special Teams: B-
Blaming the wind sounds juvenile, but it really was the wind's fault and I can’t lower the grade any less. The wind carried Tommy Doman’s punt 65 yards and into the end zone, AND it hung the ball up in the air on Tyler Morris’s muffed return. The wind (*shakes fist*)!
The wind did not have any impact on kicker James Turner, however, who was perfect on extra points and his sole field goal attempt from 30 yards.