No. 14 Michigan had themselves a pretty good day in the state of Wisconsin on Saturday, beating them pesky Badgers 38-17. The game may have been close at halftime, but the game ended up being closer to the blowout variety.
Here are takeaways from the game.
Defense played well
Michigan’s defense had 6 sacks, 1 interception, and a forced fumble. They suffocated the Wisconsin offense and had a multitude of really hard hits — two of which knocked starting quarterback Graham Mertz and tight end Jake Ferguson. Both players left the game with chest injuries.
WIsconsin had just 43 yards rushing and 167 yards passing (48% completion percentage), and the effort the unit is playing with has been noticeably improved compared to 2020. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has made a major difference — the defense and the new scheme is clicking, the increase in zone coverage looks along with disguising coverages has been a stellar occurrence. Michigan has the personnel to make a 3-4 scheme work, the pass-rush continues to produce, and multiple players have the ability to lay bone-crunching hits on the opponent. Further, the communication has been great, players don’t look consistently confused. This is just about the best the defense has looked since 2016.
McNamara plays well
Cade McNamara did miss a few throws early, but settled in just fine and threw more than a few accurate balls deep. McNamara was 17-of-28 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns- the two TDs went for 34 yards and 13 yards. The production from McNamara was a step in the right direction after throwing for just 7 yards in the second half against Rutgers.
McNamara has been turnover free through the first five games, has shown a willingness to throw deep — he has the team undefeated and in a position where all their goals are still attainable. However, there’s a backup who we’ll talk about shortly who’s doing everything he can to receive more playing time.
McCarthy flashes next level stuff again
McCarthy threw a long touchdown all the way across the field earlier this season, a Patrick Mahomes-like play that wowed fans and teammates alike. And McCarthy had another one of those moments against Wisconsin on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Daylen Baldwin, who he also hit on the play referenced above.
The throw was just a flick of the wrist from McCarthy, the definition of a gunslinger. McCarthy can clearly get the ball off quick from different angles. He has flashed great arm strength along with the potential that he can become highly accurate with the deep ball.
McCarthy also is a threat in the running game, where he can keep defenses honest in the read-option game. McCarthy punched in a quarterback sneak for a score that put Michigan up 20-10, with that score it felt like momentum went heavily back towards Michigan.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh is surely pleased with Cade McNamara’s play, but he definitely is having increasing confidence in the five-star true freshman backup quarterback. Playing on the road versus Wisconsin isn’t an easy task, and Harbaugh threw McCarthy into the fire, and McCarthy responded well. With McCarthy’s success in Madison, Harbaugh will trust him more as the season goes on. McCarthy getting increased reps would come as no surprise at this point, which isn’t a reflection on what McNamara is or isn’t doing — the fact is Michigan appears to have a couple solid options at quarterback and they’re going to try and utilize both of them. This should push McNamara to perform at an even higher clip, and it’ll allow McCarthy to treat the snaps he takes as gold, trying to make a lasting impression on Harbaugh that he should see more and more time at quarterback.
The attitude in the locker room is in a good place
Michigan is believing right now. They’re playing fairly fundamentally sound football throughout the course of four quarters and look like they’re ready to get in a dog fight with anyone. This is a good team, and a lot of it starts with attitude.
Michigan is striking a good balance of seriousness and enjoyment. Realizing it’s okay to have fun while also realizing the task at hand requires ferociousness once they get on the field. A prime example of this came today when “Jump Around” played at Camp Randall and instead of looking up into the crowd and fearing the raucous crowd, they joined in with the sea of Wisconsin red and jumped around with the home fans.
Thoughts moving forward
Michigan plays at Nebraska, then has a bye week, before playing Northwestern at home and Michigan State in East Lansing. If things go the way they should, Michigan should beat Nebraska and Northwestern, who they’ve certainly looked better than so far this year. That sets up Michigan playing at Michigan State with a 7-0 record. A lot of people didn’t predict Michigan to even get to 7 wins this season, yet they could be rolling into November with an undefeated record. Sure, there’s a lot of work ahead of them, but the program looks like it’s in a good place. Jim Harbaugh revamped his staff and it is paying dividends. The team believes in one another, and they believe in their coaches.