Tread cautiously, but this just feels different. The Michigan Wolverines are cruising after two impressive victories and seem to be changing the narrative from the offseason. While the quality of opponents is nothing special (and will only get worse this weekend), there is no denying that the way the games have played out shows that this team could make some noise in ways its predecessors could not.
It all starts with the running game, which has been nothing short of dominant. The offensive line was receiving praise heading into the year, and it has responded with an excellent 339 yards per game average that ranks fourth in the country. Of course, much of this is due to the thunder and lightning combination of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum as well, the latter of which looks like the best Michigan playmaker in a while, already finding the end zone four times on 8.1 yards per carry.
The Wolverines are now up to sixth (!!) per S&P+, level with Penn State and just a fraction behind Ohio State. There is a long way to go and much tougher competition ahead, but no one expected this level of dominance out of the gate. Northern Illinois ranks just 108th overall by S&P+ and will likely become the next victim of this outrageous rushing attack on Saturday.
Northern Illinois Huskies (0-1) vs. No. 25 Michigan Wolverines (2-0, 0-0)
Date: Saturday, September 18
Time: 12:00 pm ET
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
The other side of the ball has been great as well for Michigan, as the defense was all over Washington last weekend. The visitors could do next to nothing on the ground (1.6 yards per attempt), and aside from one fourth quarter touchdown drive, there was very little threat all evening. Despite the 293 passing yards allowed, the Wolverine secondary does look improved and may not end up being the team’s weakest unit.
Unfortunately, that honor seems headed for the Michigan passing game. While there was no need to throw the ball against Washington, Cade McNamara struggled on his 15 attempts, logging just 44 total yards. Some of the blame goes on the coaching staff, and some on the Ronnie Bell-less receiving corps as well, but there is simply no threat from this unit right now. Northern Illinois is unlikely to require much throwing either, but it would be in Michigan’s best interest to get McNamara some reps and prove he can actually pass effectively when he inevitably must.
All camp it sounded like Josh Gattis was determined to establish the run game, and he has done just that so far. Corum has been a revelation in his second season, and he has the ability to take any touch all the way. The Wolverines are loving their ability to just grind down opponents and shove the ball down their throat. Against an overmatched Northern Illinois team, this will be the game plan yet again.
The Huskies are not good, but they do have a scary face under center: Rocky Lombardi. Last season, the former Spartan terrorized the Michigan secondary for 323 yards and endless pass interference calls. The Northern Illinois pass catchers are probably not that much worse than Lombardi’s options last year, so this will be an opportunity for redemption for Vincent Gray and the Michigan secondary under the new scheme.