Boy, those cupcakes were delicious, and it’s nice to see the Michigan Wolverines being ranked inside the top five the last few weeks. But now that the easier victories are out of the way, now it’s time for U-M to kick off conference play.
After being favored by more than 40 points the first three weeks, according to DraftKings, Michigan is favored by 17 points against the Maryland Terrapins.
Here’s what the Wolverines need to do to make sure that they improve to 4-0.
Establish the run and make life easier for J.J. McCarthy
Last Saturday was certainly fun for Blake Corum, who, despite a modest stat line of 12 carries for 71 yards, was able to find the end zone five times in the 59-0 victory over UConn. Corum and the Michigan run game has been dominant all year long, averaging just over 231 yards per game with running lanes and big plays all season long.
With how good the unit has looked all year long, I like Corum to smash the over of 87.5 yards in this game. While Maryland has the best run defense Michigan has faced all season (they’re currently ranked 49th in the country), this one shouldn’t be as much of a blowout as the last few games, which means more snaps and carries for Michigan’s best ball carrier.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy has looked solid, and he hasn’t had to work too hard so far with Michigan playing a bunch of cupcakes. While McCarthy can certainly win this game for Michigan, he shouldn’t need to. If Michigan can establish the run to set him up with more 3rd and 3’s than 3rd and 10’s in the passing game, he may only need to throw the ball about 15 times in this one.
Make life hard for Taulia Tagovailoa
The brother of reigning Nickelodeon Valuable Player and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Taulia is easily the best passer Michigan has faced this season. As our Dan Plocher laid out earlier this week, he’s been a solid Big Ten passer ever since he transferred from Alabama.
He is surrounded by a talented offensive line with a few pro prospects, including Spencer Anderson, the highest graded player among tackles by Pro Football Focus in the Big Ten and third nationally with at least 500 snaps. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter was very complimentary of Maryland’s offense when speaking to the media earlier this week.
“Seeing a very productive offense, about 500 yards a game, 40 points a game. Really good quarterback, really good skill, a lot of speed,” Minter said. “I think they play to the quarterback’s strengths and kind of what he does well. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Maryland is solid offensively and put the quarterback in a position to succeed. The Terrapins have been good on the ground this season but as we’ve seen in past weeks, Michigan can throw a litany of athletes at opponents that can force tackles for loss and force quick throws from quarterbacks panicking in the pocket.
If Michigan can sack Tagovailoa a few times and force him to throw a pick or two, this game will be over by halftime.
Stay dominant on special teams
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Wolverines’ win last week was how dominant they were on special teams. A blocked punt in the second quarter helped set up an easy score, and later in that quarter, A.J. Henning scored off of a punt return.
Henning also had a return for a touchdown last year against Maryland. Giles Jackson also had a kick return touchdown for Michigan against the Terps back in 2019. Can we expect Michigan to score on special teams every time against Maryland? Of course not. But one of the many reasons Michigan easily covered the spread last week was because special teams made life easier for the football team.
Jay Harbaugh has done a great job running that unit so far. Let’s hope they can continue to be dominant to open conference play.