Preview: Michigan vs. East Carolina

Preview: Michigan vs. East Carolina

September 2, 2023
(image via ECU Athletics)

Michigan’s running game has been talked about so much that it feels kind of insulting to bring up again. But I will, anyway. Michigan returns three-fifths of the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line in left guard Trevor Keegan, right guard Zak Zinter, and offensive tackle . . . someone. One or both of Trente Jones and Karsen Barnhart should start. Running back Blake Corum surprised most people when he chose a return to Michigan over playing in the NFL, so he brings back his 1,463 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Backup running back Donovan Edwards had 991 yards on the ground. Michigan was #5 in rushing with 238.9 yards/game and scored the second-most rushing touchdowns (41), behind only Georgia (44). Last year’s East Carolina unit finished #19 in the country in rushing defense (112.5 yards allowed/game), and they held Tulane star running back Tyjae Spears to 16 carries for 53 yards (Spears finished with 1,581 rushing yards on the season). The Pirates have a couple 300-ish pound nose tackles, but their 3-techniques are around 270, which has to have Zak Zinter champing at the bit. The leading tackler last year was 6’2″, 187 lb. safety Julius Wood (88 stops), and the top guy in the front seven was 6’2″, 237 lb. outside linebacker Jeremy Lewis (60 tackles). The two starting inside linebackers are totally unproven in junior Teylor Jackson (32 career tackles) and South Carolina State transfer B.J. Davis, who are 219 and 227 pounds, respectively. This should be a good day on the ground for the Wolverines.
Advantage: Michigan

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The bigger question mark for Michigan’s offense is the passing game, which finished at #83 in yardage last year, even if it was #23 in passing efficiency. J.J. McCarthy completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, but he topped 60% completions just once in his final six games. The story goes that his surgically repaired shoulder didn’t feel great early in the year, but he was completing 70% of his passes when it hurt . . . and then when it felt better, the accuracy dropped off but he started hitting some deep balls. I don’t know how much to buy into that . . . Anyway, Michigan lost top receiver Ronnie Bell and will be relying on receivers Cornelius Johnson (32 catches, 499 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Roman Wilson (25/376/4), along with tight end Colston Loveland (16/235/2). East Carolina finished #130 out of 131 teams last season in pass defense (292.8 yards allowed/game), allowed 8.7 yards per attempt (tied for #126), and ranked #123 in passing efficiency defense. Meanwhile, they made 11 interceptions, but the only returnee who notched any is Julius Wood, who had 2 (1 of which he returned for a TD against Memphis). Jeremy Lewis and his team-leading 4.5 sacks return, along with defensive tackle Elijah Morris (6’1″, 269) and defensive end Chad Stephens (6’1″, 261), both of whom had 2.5 sacks. Overall, this is a small defensive front with some quickness, and there are a lot of new faces in the defensive backfield.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan was #7 in rush defense last year (97.9 yards allowed/game) and they allowed just 3.26 yards per carry, which was #10 nationally. A couple stout defensive linemen in Mike Morris and Mazi Smith left for the NFL, but they’re being replaced by good players in Braiden McGregor and 339-pound Kenneth Grant, respectively. Linebacker Junior Colson led the team with 101 tackles, and he’ll probably do so again in 2023. There are some who think defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, Jr. will be a 1st round pick now that he’s up twenty pounds to 305, and he was already one of the best run-stoppers in the country. East Carolina was #54 in rushing yards in 2022 (170.6 yards/game), but they were led by running back Keaton Mitchell, who made the Baltimore Ravens’ 53-man roster this year. Junior running back Rahjai Harris (5’11”, 211) returns with his 67 carries for 238 yards and 5 touchdowns from last year, along with sophomore Marlon Gunn, Jr. (5’11”, 210) and his 68 carries for 344 yards. The offensive line is good-sized (the only sub-300-pounder is USF transfer Dustyn Hall at 6’4″ and 294 lbs.), but the tackles are new and a concern for ECU.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan finished at #20 in pass defense (194.2 yards allowed/game) and notched more interceptions (14) than touchdowns allowed (11), finishing with the #5 passing efficiency defense in the country. They lost two starting corners in D.J. Turner II and Gemon Green, but then-freshman Will Johnson had taken Green’s job by the end of last season. The 6’2″, 202 lb. Johnson should be all-conference this year after making 3 interceptions in just five starts last season. Michigan might have the best safety duo in the conference with Rod Moore (71 tackles, 4 interceptions) and Makari Paige (41 tackles, 1 interception), but . . . all three of the aforementioned players might miss the game due to injury. Michigan will probably be starting UMass transfer Josh Wallace and nickel corner Mike Sainristil at the corner positions. The top returning sack guy is McGregor, who had 2.5 takedowns in 2022, and Coastal Carolina transfer Josaiah Stewart (3.5 sacks) also brings some pass rush juice. Meanwhile, East Carolina will start 6’5″, 249 lb. Mason Garcia, who was the #377 overall recruit in 2020 but ended up at ECU because of some academic issues. He has only thrown 15 career passes with 1 touchdown and 1 interception to his name. Just two of ECU’s top six receivers from last year return, with wideout Jaylen Johnson (6’2″, 192) having caught 26 passes for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns, and tight end Shane Calhoun (6’3″, 242) notching 25 grabs for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michigan should be able to put ECU’s new tackles to the test, and as long as the defensive tackles and inside linebackers can keep tabs on Garcia, they should be able to get after the quarterback. The Wolverines will have some new faces in the secondary, so the more pressure they can put on Garcia quickly, the better.
Advantage: Michigan


  • No players on ECU’s roster were recruited by Michigan out of high school
  • Michigan’s only player from North Carolina is walk-on Liam Groulx
  • East Carolina has no players on its roster from the state of Michigan


  • Michigan and ECU have never played
  • ECU joined Divison I-A (now known as FBS) in 1978


  • Michigan 48, East Carolina 17

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