Michigan 33, Northwestern 7

Michigan 33, Northwestern 7

October 24, 2021
Blake Corum (image via WXYZ)

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FIRE MCNAMARA! OR DON’T! After the game yesterday, I hopped on Twitter and came across a tweet saying “Cade [McNamara] has missed almost everything today.” I found that to be a very odd statement, considering he completed a season-high 74% of his passes. McNamara finished 20/27 for 129 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, which is a pitiful number. After I called the Twitterer out for being factually incorrect, he relented and lamented the fact that McNamara missed the deep shots down the field. Which leads me to my next thought.

Hit the jump for more.

FIRE GATTIS! OR DON’T! I have a few issues with Gattis’s play calling and play designs, and they popped up against Northwestern once again. First of all, I don’t think he runs nearly enough RPO’s despite having a strong running game and a quarterback who can physically and mentally handle it. Second, I think Gattis does a poor job of scheming downfield pass routes open. The latter point is relevant here, because the issue I have with the “Bench McNamara!” crowd is that nothing deep was open against Northwestern. (Caveat: I don’t have all-22 film, so maybe there were open receivers I couldn’t see on TV.) When McNamara was throwing – and missing – deep balls, was it because he was supposed to throw it deep on those plays? If that’s the case, the guys he was throwing to were well covered. McNamara mostly threw the ball out of reach to guys who had a player over the top or were double-covered. The only deep ball placement I really had an issue with was the throw to tight end Luke Schoonmaker, which I think should have been completed.

Michigan quarterbacks regress under Gattis. We’ve seen it for three years straight. After completing over 64% of his passes in 2018 under Pep Hamilton, Patterson completed 56.2% of his passes in 2019. Last year Joe Milton was benched after completing just 56.7% of his passes. Now here we are through seven games of the 2021 season, and McNamara is #9 in the conference in completion percentage and passer rating, along with being #8 in yards per attempt. Michigan has one of the best running games in the entire country, and the offensive coordinator still can’t scheme up open receivers downfield with any kind of consistency. Of course having Ronnie Bell injured and out for the season doesn’t help, but Bell was never the fastest guy to get over the top, anyway; Bell was the guy who generally made tough catches over the middle or who caught short passes and ran well after the catch.

I’m a firm believer in “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” Michigan is 7-0 and finding ways to win. That way is generally not the passing game, but as long as McNamara is not taking sacks, not turning over the ball, and running the entire offense efficiently, I would not make a change. If Michigan were to stumble in the MSU game next week – including poor play from the quarterback – then I might consider inserting freshman J.J. McCarthy. But here’s the thing: McCarthy will regress, too. Not only is it practically impossible to expect zero turnovers and deep touchdowns every few throws, but if you don’t believe me that McCarthy is headed for regression, just look at my point in the above paragraph.

The Ambiguously Good Duo. Blake Corum (19 carries, 119 yards, 2 TD) and Hassan Haskins (23 carries, 110 yards, 2 TD) are such a fun combo to watch. Corum has great burst and the ability to make people look silly in the open field, and Haskins finds a way to push piles, jump over people, and just slither his way to extra yards. Corum is obviously the more explosive one, but Haskins is so consistent that it’s tough to say which one is more fun to watch. I had been hoping that Donovan Edwards (5 carries, 18 yards) would get an opportunity to play earlier in this one, but his ball security issues popped up late when he caught a swing pass and fumbled.

The defense played very well overall. The breakaway 75-yard touchdown by Evan Hull was disappointing, but the Wildcats managed just 25 yards rushing outside of that play. Altogether, they rushed 23 times for 100 yards. That one play was a simple outside zone play where the linebackers and safeties didn’t fill properly. It was kind of a fluke, considering how often outside zone gets run without turning into a huge gain. The other terrible play by the defense was on a funky shifting formation in which Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw the ball on an arrow route to the flat and missed a wide open tight end on a corner route, a play that might have turned into a long touchdown. On those plays it’s tough to maintain eye discipline, so personally, I like to check to zone coverage on those shifts just to make sure nothing pops open deep.

The refs didn’t take center stage, but they were crappy in a supporting role. The officiating in the Nebraska game took center stage because it was a close game and they got calls wrong on huge, game-turning plays (touchdowns, interceptions, etc.). The officiating in this one was more subtly bad. The two main poor calls were a) on a jump ball into the endzone when Northwestern’s cornerback had his arm wrapped entirely around Cornelius Johnson’s waist and didn’t get called and b) on a go route against D.J. Turner where Northwestern’s receiver pushed the Michigan corner out of the way while Turner was looking for the ball, and somehow Turner got called for pass interference.

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