Cade McNamara > Joe Milton. Redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara had a game that Joe Milton could only dream of, and that included completing 9/11 passes for 136 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. It doesn’t matter if you can throw a ball 80 yards if you don’t know where the ball is going. McNamara has the ability to recognize matchups and read defenses, and those skills trump Howitzers for arms. His best two passes of the day were beautiful deep balls to . . .
Ronnie Bell. Bell made a great one-handed catch on the sideline (nullified by a very questionable offensive pass interference call) and a great 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown. That at the end of an exciting 31-yard punt return, he seemed to slump to the ground when getting tackled and was swarmed by medical personnel. When he left the field, he had to be carried and his right leg was just dangling. My fear is that he tore his ACL while making a cut at the end of the run. Bell is a captain, led the team in receiving the past two years, and was bound to lead the team in that category once again in 2021. After losing Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye, and Jalen Mayfield to injury in 2020, it’s frustrating that Michigan couldn’t avoid a serious injury even one game into the season against a MAC opponent.
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The running backs still rotate. Whaddaya know? Numerous people insisted that Jay Harbaugh was a bad running backs coach because he rotated backs, but after he moved to tight ends coach . . . the running backs were still rotating. New running backs coach Mike Hart somehow caught the bug and gave 11 carries to Hassan Haskins and 14 to Blake Corum, and that relatively equal distribution appeared even before garbage time opened the door for backups to play. Corum exploded for 111 yards (7.9 yards/carry) while Haskins had a steady 70 yards (5.4 yards/carry). The offensive line was unable to create many holes early in the game, but as the contest wore on, those undersized Western Michigan linemen started to get tired from being leaned on. Corum made some great cuts and showed a burst, while Haskins stuck to his tradition of bouncing off and leaping over potential tacklers. Freshman Donovan Edwards (6 carries, 27 yards) also got his first shot at playing time.
A.J. Henning = Giles Jackson. I appreciate Giles Jackson’s talent as a returner and gadget player, but I really wasn’t that broken up about it when he transferred to Washington. Why? Michigan has a reasonable facsimile of Jackson in the form of A.J. Henning, who had a 74-yard touchdown on an end around and caught 1 pass for 11 yards. I do think Michigan has to find a way of getting those types of players the ball regularly in the offense rather than just a couple times or on short passes over the middle. Other teams are able to take advantage of speedy slot guys on bubbles, slot fades, and slant RPO’s, and I have yet to see Michigan really do that with Jackson or Henning.
How about that defense? I’m not entirely sure what to think of the defense. Michigan showed a variety of fronts – which they did under Don Brown, too – but I think one of the big takeaways was the frequent usage of two down linemen and two standup ends/outside linebackers. That has been a staple of the Baltimore Ravens’ defense, and it seems to have made its way to Ann Arbor. Michigan’s defensive line did start to impose its will later in the game, but the interior line needs to be better. I was not impressed by what I saw from Mazi Smith, and I’m also concerned that Kris Jenkins was deemed to be capable of playing so much. Jenkins looks like he needs to add another 15 pounds before being game-ready, and that’s not going to happen during the season.
Aidan Hutchinson is a beast. Hutchinson is going to face better tackles than he did on this day, but he was essentially unblockable one-on-one. He made 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 1 quarterback hurry, but his impact was larger than that. He forced Western Michigan quarterback Kaleb Eleby to speed up his internal clock, and Eleby wasn’t the same crisp performer by the end of the game that he was early on.
Welcome to Michigan! Michigan got a huge play from J.J. McCarthy, who looked comfortable (except for one major hiccup) and made an exciting play you almost never see. Sprinting to his right to evade the pass rush, he planted his foot near the right sideline and threw the ball across the field to the opposite numbers, over the head of a Western Michigan defensive back, into the waiting hands of transfer wide receiver Daylen Baldwin, who took it the rest of the way for a 69-yard touchdown. Baldwin did not get much run, but he made his time count. And McCarthy showed us a glimpse of the future.
Beating up on WMU is what Michigan should do. If Michigan struggles with a MAC team, that would be a huge concern. A 47-14 victory doesn’t ensure greatness in 2021, but we’ve seen worse – like the 2008 loss to Toledo or the 28-24 near loss to Akron in 2013 that hinted at the 3-9 and 7-6 final records, respectively. There have been times where Michigan couldn’t consistently dial up big plays against smaller, slower, less talented teams, and the Wolverines found numerous guys – Ronnie Bell, Blake Corum, Daylen Baldwin, A.J. Henning, Roman Wilson, etc. – who could do that today.
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