It was an interesting season for the Michigan Wolverines’ wide receiver group in 2022. Going into the year, some were unsure whether Michigan would pass the ball more thanks to the talented players at the position.
In 2021, the Wolverines were built for the run game, and the same was true in 2022. However, knowing that J.J. McCarthy could be the starting quarterback while having a receiver room with Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, Andrel Anthony, Roman Wilson and AJ Henning, to name a handful, made people think the Wolverines could be pass-first.
During non-conference play, the wide receivers got a decent amount of attention. McCarthy and Cade McNamara were battling it out and the offense was throwing a bit more. The receivers combined for six touchdowns and Bell began to emerge as the team’s top receiver once again after suffering a season-long ACL injury in 2021.
Then came Big Ten play. Michigan opened at home against Maryland and the Terps’ defense was much more challenging than the Wolverines’ non-conference foes. The offense began to lean on the run game, and the tight ends when going through the air.
This became the norm throughout the Big Ten schedule. Corum was fantastic and couldn’t be stopped, and Michigan was a run-first team in general. There were some bright spots and important plays by receivers, however. Michigan was in a dog fight against Indiana in Week 6. Tied at halftime, the Wolverines needed something to go their way. Johnson stepped up and delivered two clutch second-half touchdowns to bury the Hoosiers and give Michigan a relatively comfortable 21-point road win.
With Corum, Michigan ran its way through the schedule without much need for big performances from the receivers. Then things changed in a big way against Illinois. Corum went down with an injury and right before the biggest game of the season, the Wolverines lost their biggest offensive weapon.
In Columbus with the season on the line without Corum, things looked bleak at first. Ohio State got out to an early lead and Michigan’s offense couldn’t get anything going. The Wolverines needed a spark before the Buckeyes pulled away. That’s when Johnson took a pass 69 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
Just like that, a switch was flipped. The very next offensive play for Michigan: 75-yard touchdown to Johnson. Those two plays brought the offense alive and the Wolverines couldn’t be stopped after that.
Michigan still had Donovan Edwards and a very good run game, but the Wolverines were still relying a little bit more on the passing game. Bell specifically had a nice game in the Big Ten Championship, going for 67 yards on five catches and scored the dagger touchdown.
The receivers had a good day in the Fiesta Bowl, too, despite the loss. Bell and Wilson both had more than 100 yards and a touchdown. TCU did a good job stopping the run, and the receivers showed they were ready for the offense to go through the air. Unfortunately, things didn’t go Michigan’s way, but 45 points is usually more than enough to win the Wolverines a game.
Looking back on it all, it was a roller coaster year for the receivers. There was a ton of talent in the room, but with a first-year quarterback, an elite offensive line and a superstar at running back, it made sense for Michigan to lean on the ground game. Still, when the receivers needed to step up, they did, and they showed they were ready for the moment at any time.