Halfway through the season, we now have a good idea of what the Michigan Wolverines are. Without trying to sound trite, 7-0 is as good a start as can be expected, thanks in no small measure to two groups in particular. If all units can come together to form the championship mold head coach Jim Harbaugh has in mind, 12-0 is an attainable record. Michigan has the skill, tenacity, and gamesmanship to make it happen.
Below are my grades for the Wolverines’ position groups at the midterm mark.
The most intriguing story entering the 2022 campaign for the Wolverines was Harbaugh’s unique approach to the quarterback battle. But as we all know, J.J. McCarthy cemented himself as the starting quarterback early in the Hawai’i game. For all the hype and high expectation surrounding McCarthy, it’s clear this team’s identity is predicated on the run game. In turn, this has kept McCarthy from putting up flashier numbers and turned the passing game into a complementary facet of the offense. McCarthy has done what he has been asked upon to do, so he deserves a respectable B grade.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B+
As with McCarthy, the wideouts and tight ends are not the straw that stirs the drink for Michigan’s offense. Ronnie Bell’s ability to pick up yards after the catch has been great, as has Roman Wilson’s speed and knack for getting in the end zone. The entire receiver groups’ blocking has also been tremendous.
As for the tight ends, Luke Schoonmaker has really taken a step forward this year with Erick All injured, becoming a go-to target for McCarthy. Max Bredeson, Colston Loveland and Joel Honigford round out a very solid group to give them a B+ grade.
Running Backs: A
Michigan has the best running back duo in the country, hands down. Explosivity, physicality, vision — Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards have it all. An A+ might be in order if Michigan can bulldoze the Buckeyes for a second straight meeting.
Offensive Line: A
The men up front are the heart and soul of this team and without them to lead the way, we would not be close to talking about Corum’s Heisman odds. My consistent praise for this group has been vindicated by their inclusion on the midseason Joe Moore Award watch list. To quote Harbaugh, this group’s dominance warms the cockles of my heart.
Front 7: A-
Other than the quarterback situation, no other group entered this campaign with more question marks than the defensive line. And, for the most part, this group has answered the bell. Michigan currently leads the Big Ten in sacks (24) and limits opponents to a measly 2.88 yards per rush.
Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and defensive line coach Mike Elston have each done a fine job coalescing this group. My only concern is the lack of consistent pressure we witnessed against Maryland and — to a somewhat lesser extent — Iowa. But this group just keeps getting more dominant as the season rolls along.
Michigan is No. 3 in the country in passing efficiency defense — despite only having four interceptions all season. Gemon Green and DJ Turner have been phenomenal in man coverage so far, and the safeties are as solid as can be. The one thing that gives me pause is they gave up almost 250 yards to the moribund Iowa offense. Perhaps that can be chalked up to the mismatches presented by Iowa’s tight ends, but that performance — and the lack of interceptions — was just alarming enough to drop their grade to an A-.
Special Teams: A
Not much needs to be said about this group. Jake Moody will be playing on Sundays in the near future. Brad Robbins isn’t called upon much, but has punted well when he has been. A.J. Henning has been dynamic at times on punt returns.
The Wolverines brought back the player-led, old school demeanor that propelled last year’s Big Ten championship so far. Michigan football is fun again; the players know it, the fans know it and the opponents know it. Furthermore, offensive and defensive play-calling has been much improved from earlier in the Harbaugh era. No longer are we left expecting Michigan to come out flat against quality opponents or having the top blown off the defense (as was so often the case when Don Brown led the defense).
Harbaugh and Michigan have turned over a new leaf. Let’s hope that carries over to more victories over Ohio State and more Big Ten championships.