Michigan’s passing game wasn’t flashy against Northwestern, but it didn’t have to be.
Michigan didn’t pull away in the first half, but they did by the time the game was over. A 10-7 game at halftime turned into a 33-7 whooping.
Michigan’s rushing attack powered the offense — Hassan Haskins had 110 yards and 2 touchdowns, Blake Corum rushed for 118 yards and 2 scores. McNamara missed some shots deep, but the short-yardage to intermediate range wasn’t a problem for him at all. On the day, McNamara was 20-of-27 for 129 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said Michigan may have forced the ball deep “a little too much with how they were playing”, but also noted he was pleased with the passing game and McNamara’s performance.
“Coming down, hitting the check-downs, hitting some of the out-routes, dispersing the ball all over the field really. In the passing game. We didn’t connect on a deep one, but I don’t think the deep ones were there,” Harbaugh said.
There was one deep pass McNamara may have been able to hit tight end Luke Schoonmaker deep for a sizable gain but came up a bit short. On the other opportunities, there wasn’t much there like Harbaugh mentioned. For McNamara, he’s not shying away from the need to throw it vertically, he realizes hitting shots when they present themselves is something that matters immensely.
“I don’t think I was forcing anything downfield. I saw one-on-one opportunities and I took them,” McNamara said. “I think those are plays that we need in our offense. They were called and I did my best to execute them. I think there is no problem with me taking shots downfield when there is one-on-one coverage.”
McNamara has made clutch throws deep in recent memory against teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin. For anyone frustrated at the lack of explosion in the passing game against Northwestern, the case can be made McNamara operated just fine within the confines of what Michigan was asking him to do. He played safe and let the running game get cooking. There’s also the case that the “meat left on the bone”, as Harbaugh put it, could end up costing Michigan in the future.
The bottom line is McNamara continues to play turnover free football and rarely takes sacks — he doesn’t cost Michigan in that manner.
“Thought we did some good things in the passing game,” Harbaugh said. “How many third downs did we have? 20? And we picked up 12,” Harbaugh said. “ A lot of them through the air. Some through the air, some through the ground. Moving the ball, we did that.”
It’s hard to argue with Michigan’s approach when you look at the final box score of some of these games, they’re 7-0. However, it’s also concerning there was a second half of a game this season where McNamara threw for just 7 yards against Rutgers in a 20-13 win. The Michigan passing game is a bit paradoxical — there’s a lot to compliment, but there are certainly things that can be cleaned up and improved upon.
Michigan’s running game isn’t going away any time soon as long as Haskins and Corum are healthy, and McNamara is definitely hungry to add more dimension to the passing game. As long as Michigan keeps winning, McNamara doesn’t care about the frequency in which the offense chooses air or ground. “I think whatever is working, we should stick with it.”