Run, run, and run again. Michigan fans on Twitter were getting pretty grumpy about running the ball, but I don’t have a problem with it.* It turns out that despite the rumored good defense that Washington was bringing to Ann Arbor, they couldn’t fit the run properly. Michigan ran 56 times for 343 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line didn’t provide a ton of gaping holes, but they provided enough room for slippery backs like Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins to make hay. The last time Michigan ran for more yards was in the rain during the 2017 game against Minnesota, when Chris Evans and Karan Higdon ran wild to the tune of 370 rushing yards. You do what you have to do to win the game, and Michigan was obviously destroying the Huskies with the run.
*Except I do have a problem with it. I know I lied above. And I apologize. I don’t have a problem with running the ball like mad when it’s an attempt to win an individual game, but it’s going to be very hard to recruit good receivers on the edge if you don’t throw the ball. Josh Gattis came in with the “speed in space” mantra and that borrowed some time for the Wolverines, but now they’re reverting to the Jim Harbaugh days of yore. If I’m a good wide receiver, I have zero interest in playing for Michigan. Michigan wide receivers caught just three (3!!!) balls on Saturday night in a comfortable, three-touchdown win. The leading receiver was Blake Corum with 3 catches himself for just 11 yards.
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Michigan better fix it. Player retention is going to be a problem again this off-season unless something changes. Unfortunately, Michigan can’t figure out how to balance touches. Last year it was good running backs like Chris Evans and Zach Charbonnet not getting touches. Now Michigan is refusing to throw the ball in order to keep Blake Corum (21 carries, 171 yards, 3 TD) and Hassan Haskins (27 carries, 155 yards, 1 TD) churning. Somehow other teams can run and throw enough to keep a variety of skill players happy. We measure ourselves against Ohio State, where the top three receivers have combined for 38 receptions in two games. Michigan’s entire wide receiving corps has combined for 9 catches.
No rock, no rock. There’s an old saying in football that goes “No block, no rock.” It’s usually aimed at receivers, and it basically means if you don’t block for your running backs or fellow receivers, you’re not going to get the ball or get on the field. Well, Michigan’s receivers aren’t going to be satisfied with blocking for the run 56 times and never getting the ball. The Wolverines lost their best blocking receiver in Ronnie Bell, and now nobody else wants to block except Mike Sainristil – who’s tiny – on occasion. Screens were blown up by Washington because of crappy blocking from Roman Wilson, Luke Schoonmaker, Cornelius Johnson, and Sainristil. I don’t expect that to get better unless Michigan actually follows through with trying to get those guys the ball.
Aidan Hutchinson showed up to play. Hutchinson made 4 tackles and 2.5 sacks and was the defensive standout for Michigan. The broadcasters couldn’t stop talking about him. It’s the ultimate sign of respect when the broadcast crew finds your dad in the stands and refers to him continuously, even though nobody outside of Michigan’s circle of fans has any idea who Chris Hutchinson is. It’s not like panning to Archie Manning or James Laurinaitis’s dad. Chris Hutchinson played 30 years ago and never did anything in the NFL to broaden his fan base, but he got a ton of air time on Saturday night. But Hutchinsonson deserved it. He repeatedly abused Washington’s tackles, and they even made the mistake of putting tight end Mark Otton on him one-on-one, which predictably ended with quarterback Dylan Morris getting flattened. Someone on Twitter reported that 13 NFL teams were there to scout the game last night. Whether that’s true or not, I think Hutchinson is going to be highly valued in April 2022.
Washington threw for 293 yards? Somehow Washington threw for 293 yards. They were getting big chunks at times, but none of the receivers could do much after the catch. And most of those chunk plays came in the second half when they were down by three scores. It seemed like defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald called off the dogs a little bit in the second half, allowing Morris a little more time in the pocket to find his receivers. Then Washington got a little bit of momentum, started varying its rhythm, and got Michigan out of sorts. There were a few too many times for my liking where Michigan was sending in waves of defensive linemen, and they weren’t getting lined up properly before the ball was snapped. It reminded me of the Greg Mattison days when a tight end would trade sides, and the whole defensive line would flip to the strength. Michigan has to get a little more organized to deal with tempo.
Michigan didn’t throw for 293 yards. Cade McNamara completed 7/15 passes for 44 yards. Erick All came through with his standard dropped pass, which was fun. Otherwise, Washington’s solid pass defense seemed to cover up Michigan’s receivers pretty well. I’m not at all sold on offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s ability to design and call pass plays. Cade McNamara also seemed a bit hesitant at times. He kept the ball on a zone read play one time, and while he got a first down and a nice chunk of 9 yards, he then pitter-pattered his feet long enough to take a solid hit from a Washington safety, instead of diving/sliding to avoid the blow. I do think Michigan wanted to avoid the turnover risk of throwing it downfield, but you still need to be able to create more in the passing game. I can be okay with 15 passing attempts, but they need to be efficient and get chunks of yards. Gattis’s insistence on running inside screens – something I’ve hated about his offense since his first game calling plays against Middle Tennessee in 2019 – once again backfired in this one. I know it’s early in the year, but last night’s run game seemed more inspired by Matt Weiss and the passing game was vintage Gattis. One way or another, I think this might be Gattis’s final season in Ann Arbor, despite the contract extension.
What does this do for the program? Washington is 0-2, can’t run the ball very well, and doesn’t have much in the way of a passing game. It’s probably not as significant of a win as we want it to be, but it’s still a prime time Saturday night game that had a lot of eyeballs on it. Michigan brought in a ridiculous recruiting list for the game (LINK), and the recruits had to be impressed with the size and raucousness of the crowd, if not the “boring” three-touchdown victory. I don’t think this victory moves the program forward much, but it does stave off questions about Jim Harbaugh’s job security for a little longer.
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