Snow flurries, low 30s, and running the ball one shy of 50 attempts: Saturday was about as stereotypically Michigan as it gets — as is pummeling a Big Ten opponent by multiple touchdowns. The story for the Michigan Wolverines this season has been one dominated by solid defensive outings and a punishing running attack, and Michigan’s victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers gave credence to the old adage “that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This felt more like a practice scrimmage than a real game for J.J. McCarthy. The healthy amount of deep shots suggests the coaching staff knew Michigan stood little chance of losing this game straight up, so they wanted to see if McCarthy could connect on a deep pass or two. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so, with his longest completion being a 29-yard connection that Ronnie Bell fumbled into the end zone. Most of the blame for his less than 50% completion rate (the second game in a row this has happened) can be blamed on the wideouts for drops and subpar route running. However, J.J. didn’t do enough to lift himself into the “B” range.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: D+
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but Michigan’s pass catchers need to step up their game – and fast. Is it just me, or does it seem like the only eligible receivers Michigan has on the field at any given time are Ronnie Bell and a “flavor of the week” tight end? Michigan’s heart and soul are in its run game, but the lack of playmaking and production through the air is making its offense one-dimensional. I can live with the wideouts not coming up with deep balls against a foe like Nebraska. Yet when the passing attack looks as clunky as it did on Saturday, there has to be some handwringing on the coaching staff about how this group will fair against stiffer competition.
Running Backs: A
Saturday was another successful day for the running backs. Blake Corum eclipsed 150 yards again. C.J. Stokes is finding his groove. Tavierre Dunlap played well, too. All-in-all, no complaints and familiar praise for Mike Hart’s group.
Offensive Line: A
Aside from the two sacks and a couple of tackles for loss surrendered, Michigan’s offensive line continued to bring the pain against the Cornhuskers. The Great Blue Wall, to coin a phrase, muscled Michigan to victory. What impresses me the most about this group is its ability to move in synchronicity with one another. Whether on a zone run, buck sweep, or dive, the offensive line practically moves as one as they maul the opposition. Such versatility and hivemind mentality have allowed the running game to produce a notch above everyone else in the nation.
Front 7: A
Before he left the game with an injury, Chubba Purdy’s quarterback keepers were the only approximation Nebraska would marshal all day. Michigan held the Cornhuskers to 2.6 yards per carry and surrendered nothing longer on the ground than a 13-yard scamper by the aforementioned Purdy.
Michigan’s secondary put away any hope of the Cornhuskers making it a slightly closer game when they locked down Trey Parker. Nebraska’s leading receiver (with over 800 yards on the season entering the game) was limited to 12 yards on five receptions. Apart from a connection on a corner post route to Marcus Washington, the Nebraska Cornhuskers couldn’t field much of a passing attack against the Wolverines.
Special Teams: A
No news is, once again, good news for Michigan’s special teams. Jake Moody got back to his stellar ways by connecting on both field goal attempts. A.J. Henning, despite a muffed-ish punt, did solid work in the return game. The world, but not necessarily Michigan fans, was graced with an appearance by outlaw-turned-punter (or is it the other way around?) Brad Robbins on three occasions.
Michigan’s Deportment: B
Once again, the fanbase will be divided over this showing.
Optimists will say Michigan got the job done against a vastly inferior opponent, played championship defense and gave the deep ball the old college try. Pessimists will say Michigan is one-dimensional on offense. Unless Michigan is hiding the playbook for Ohio State, I’m leaning more toward the negative side of things.
As I mentioned earlier, I can’t blame the likes of Cornelius Johnson for not coming up with a ball while he’s sprawled out in the air. However, the number of drops and poor route running has me perplexed and frustrated. Neither McCarthy nor the play calling should be faulted here; the wide receiver room should be. For as deep and talented as this group is on paper, they haven’t lived up to their billing. Michigan will not require them to be as electric as the Buckeye’s historically good group, yet one would hope they could at least look like they belong in the same league.
Surpassing a 30.5-point spread is never something to bat an eye at, and neither is being 10-0. Michigan needs to find another gear in the passing game, though, as 12-0 is a real possibility.