Michigan 30, East Carolina 3

Michigan 30, East Carolina 3

September 4, 2023
Roman Wilson (image via Rivals)

Football is back! All is right in the world when it’s football season. In another few days, the NFL season will be back and we can all enjoy Heaven for a few months. It has been a long off-season for me on an individual level, and this is also a chance to break away from the 2023 Season Countdown and get back into a groove with writing about various topics.

This was a boring matchup. I like seeing different opponents, but with East Carolina, there were no storylines. It’s not a geographical matchup. When I looked through the roster and coaching staff, there was no crossover. East Carolina doesn’t recruit in the state of Michigan. No transfers or ex-staffers from Michigan. There was no angle. The most interesting aspect going into the opener, aside from seeing who starts for Michigan, was . . .

. . . Peacock. The Peacock stream sucked. I signed up for Peacock on Friday because there’s really no other reason to do so earlier. And I don’t really care about the expense. I’ll pay $5.99 to watch a Michigan game. But when I’m paying for it, I expect a good product. When I paid for cable, I expected ESPN and FS1 and BTN to give me a good product. Otherwise, I’ll just turn off the volume and think through it myself. I don’t need Mike Tirico and one of the Simms brothers to tell me what’s happening on the game. Peacock actually complied – presumably on accident – when there was just no audio for several minutes. The fourth quarter feed got blurry, too, but maybe that had something to do with my local internet. But Peacock also cut out a play, there was no pregame show, the halftime show was boring, and oh yeah . . . the Simms kid isn’t exactly top-notch. If I wanted crappy analysis, I would watch some of the ex-Buckeye talking heads like Josh Perry and Joey Galloway.

Hit the jump for more.

J.J. McCarthy was on fire. McCarthy looked awesome while going 26/30 for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has always had a strong arm, but he was throwing lasers. The third and final passing touchdown to Roman Wilson was an absolute dart (and a great catch by Wilson). I don’t think there are tons of questions about McCarthy’s ceiling, but he looked like an NFL quarterback out there. He reminds me a little bit of what everyone hoped former BYU and current New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson would be. East Carolina was able to get some pressure, but McCarthy felt it, kept his eyes downfield, and delivered the ball where it needed to be the vast majority of the time. He had a couple slip-ups, such as when he was over the line of scrimmage on the first TD pass to Wilson (the refs called it a TD on the field and review failed to overturn it) and when he held on to the ball a little too long on the sideline, resulting in him taking a nasty blow to the head (which turned out to be targeting and got an ECU player ejected).

The running game was disappointing. All anyone has talked about in the off-season is how good Michigan’s offensive line will be, as well as the return of Blake Corum, and they kind of laid an egg. The difference between this game and some of the lackluster performances in recent years is that Michigan just opened it up and started throwing the ball all over the field. They ended up with 31 rushing attempts and 31 passing attempts. Not only were there numerous glitches up front (I thought Myles Hinton was the main culprit), but I thought Blake Corum (10 carries, 73 yards, 1 TD) looked indecisive and a half-step slower. I believe he was quicker in 2021 before putting on some additional weight, but the knee injury last season may have sapped some of his speed. But he also just seemed to be making some poor decisions and didn’t really trust himself. Maybe he underestimated ECU a little bit and thought they would be slower/dumber than they were, but they actually flew around and tackled pretty well. Donovan Edwards (12 carries, 37 yards) didn’t get a whole lot of room to run, either.

What about the #3 running back? Lots of people were wondering who would win the #3 running back job – thinking that might be the starter in 2024 – but that is unclear. The #3 guy on the depth chart is Kalel Mullings (3 carries, 14 yards), but C.J. Stokes (2 carries, 6 yards) and Ben Hall (2 carries, 2 yards) also got opportunities. Nobody really shined. Stokes had a nice carry followed by getting submarined in the backfield. Mullings had one good run and a couple other chances that got stuffed. It seemed like it was mostly on the offensive line, as well as ECU’s defense getting penetration and selling out to stop the run.

Michigan has two good receivers and one good tight end. Roman Wilson (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD) and Cornelius Johnson (5 catches, 71 yards) looked outstanding for the most part. Wilson had a drop on the first pass attempt of the game, but otherwise, he was making nice catches and showing off outstanding speed. Johnson made a couple acrobatic and/or contested catches. Tight end Colston Loveland (4 catches, 57 yards) got open consistently. The passing game was rather easy with ECU focusing on stopping Michigan’s run game, but a diving or leaping catch is a diving or leaping catch. Nobody else did much in the receiving game, but it was noteworthy that Donovan Edwards was used in the slot (4 catches, 33 yards) to catch some short throws to give him a chance to catch and run.

The defensive backs were brand new. It was almost funny when news came out about Michigan’s pre-game injury report, because 3/4 of Michigan’s projected defensive backfield was out. Will Johnson, Rod Moore, and Amorion Walker were replaced by Keshaun Harris, Josh Wallace, and Keon Sabb, respectively. With as well as Michigan usually recruits, they probably shouldn’t be starting a walk-on and a UMass transfer at corner. But that’s the situation, and those guys played well. They weren’t tested a ton, but Wallace in particular impressed me with his coverage, and Harris is a speedster who flies up with some aggression. I guess that’s the type of play you get on defense from a guy who has mostly been a special teamer in his career. Wallace had a very nice would-be interception that reminded me a little bit of Jourdan Lewis’s pick against Northwestern several years ago, but unfortunately, ECU’s receiver made contact with the ball when he had a foot out of bounds, so it was ruled an incomplete pass. Sabb also looked like he belongs after not playing much as a freshman in 2022. Altogether, they looked like a good crew of backups. Throw in Mike Sainristil, who notched the second interception of his career, and it was a good day.

I like these linebackers. Junior Colson, Michael Barrett, and Ernest Hausmann make up a pretty darn good trio of inside linebackers. Michigan’s coaches said they felt like they had three starters there, and after watching them against ECU, I feel like they do, too. Hopefully they all stay healthy, but for the first time in a while, I feel like there’s some actual depth there rather than relying on hopes and prayers. (Last year we hoped Michael Barrett could handle playing inside linebacker, and in previous years, we prayed there would be no injuries.) In fact, several linebackers had big days with Hausmann leading the team in tackles (6), followed by Barrett (5), Colson (5), Sabb (5), walk-on linebacker Christian Boivin (4), Jaydon Hood (4), and cornerback Jyaire Hill (4).

Special teams was an adventure. Transfer kicker James Turner had a tough day with a missed extra point and a missed field goal. The missed field goal from 52 yards wasn’t a huge deal, but the missed extra point was concerning. He immediately slapped his head with both hands. While I’m sure that’s frustrating, the job of placekicking is such a mental wringer that I hope he can maintain his confidence. He was a solid kicker at Louisville, but if he gets himself in a mental funk, that could be problematic. It seems like every year, there’s at least one game that requires a crunch-time field goal to win or tie the game late. Last year it was Jake Moody’s game-winning field goal against Illinois that saved the day. Tommy Doman averaged 44.5 yards per punt, which is good. Walk-on receiver Jake Thaw handled punts just fine, but he’s not going to do anything special back there. Perhaps he was just holding down the fort for Tyler Morris, who was out due to injury, but I hope someone more athletic gets a chance to return punts. Freshman Karmello English had 1 return for 8 yards late in the game and he has a little more juice.

How much did the absence of two coaches affect the game? Jim Harbaugh (replaced by Jesse Minter) and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore (replaced by Kirk Campbell) were absent from the game due to Michigan’s self-imposed suspensions, and it’s hard to say how much that affected the team. The offense started off the second drive with the “Train” formation, a tribute to the coach who . . . cheated and got himself suspended. I thought that was a little tone-deaf, but at least it’s clear the players care for Harbaugh. (Note: As much as Michigan fans want to say it was about a cheeseburger, Harbaugh was clearly complicit in allowing former “analyst” Ryan Osborn coach the edge players in 2021, so it’s not like Harbaugh is an innocent bystander in that whole kerfuffle.) I thought Michigan was very vanilla with the play calling, especially in the run game. We’ve lodged the same complaints in past years after easy games, so I’m sure things will get more varied when necessary.

It’s going to be a fun season. Michigan has dudes all over the place. I assume the run game will get worked out, and the passing game was hitting on all cylinders. Defensively, Michigan looked very good, even without a few guys in the secondary. Special teams are a question mark other than Tommy Doman as the kickoff and punt guy. Overall, it’s a very good team with lots of skill. Even if they stumble once or twice along the way, there’s some juice surrounding Michigan football.

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