Michigan 63 Northern Illinois 10 – Game 3 Recap

2021_01_UM41_WMU14-67

GAME 3 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 63-10, Michigan by 53 over NIU
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 36 (+17)
CD Projection: Michigan by 32 (+21)

FIVE FACTORS

GAME 3 RECAP vs. Northern Illinois

No reason to over-analyze. Seems like Jim Harbaugh has the program back to the pre-pandemic standard. Michigan has taken care of business against 3 overmatched opponents. Now, the Wolverines will look to carry their momentum into the Big Ten season next weekend when they host Greg Schiano and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Offensively, the big question coming into this game was whether Michigan would, or could, pass the ball effective coming off a 44-yard performance last week vs. Washington. Even though the game plan stayed heavy on the run game, both Cade McNamara (8-11 for 191 yards) and J.J. McCarthy (4-6 for 42 yards) were able to get live reps in this one.

The offensive line was absolutely dominant for the third consecutive week. Michigan combined for 373 rushing yards, and spread the love relatively evenly. Blake Corum led the way again with 125 yards and 3 TDs, including a 52-yard race along the sideline. Hassan Haskins did his part for the Boom & Zoom duo by setting up that 52-yarder with physical runs of 4 & 15 yards on the first two snaps of the drive. Corum took the third snap to the house.

Early in this game, there was some interesting cat & mouse between coordinators. Once Mike MacDonald effectively countered NIU’s initial play script, the Wolverines effectively clamped down for the final 3 quarters. Josh Ross let the unit with 6 tackles on the day. Gemon Green chipped in by picking off a tipped pass and returning it to the NIU 3 yard line to set up a short touchdown drive.

The top-line special teams summary goes like this: punter Brad Robbins successfully held the ball 9 times for PAT kicks, and was not asked to punt once.

In the return game, we saw A.J. Henning’s explosiveness, and his ceiling for making big plays is exciting. However, he was pulled after failing to catch a punt in the 2nd half, and Andrel Anthony was given the last few opportunities. Henning looked good, but needs to continue working on reading the ball as it goes into the air so he can get to the spot and make the catch. Onward!

By the Numbers: Game 3 vs. Northern Illinois

2021_02_UM31__UW10_0-64

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan steamrolled a Washington team who was searching for answers.  The Wolverines rolled up 343 rushing yards on the way to a 31-10 victory that had a vintage Harbaugh feel.

NEXT UP: vs. NIU: 108th, -10.4

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 35.9, Michigan Win Probability 95%

The SP+ model continues to love what Michigan is doing.  The Wolverines again moved up in the SP+ rankings to 6th overall.  NIU has been pretty static in the rankings, but they are a rollercoaster on the field.   The Huskies upset #66 Georgia Tech in Week 1, then lost at home to #88 Wyoming.

Michigan Offense (13th) vs. NIU Defense (97th) 

We used our recap podcast to discuss the worry emanating from Michigan fans about the pass offense after the Washington game.  I warned folks there, and I’ll warn everyone again here: the Wolverines might hand the ball off 40-50 times again in this game.  I do agree it would be nice for Michigan to get game speed reps for Cade McNamara to read the Huskies’ defense and work on his anticipation & improving the timing of his delivery.  It would also be great to see J.J. McCarthy and Donovan Edwards inserted into the game with the starters as early as possible, just as they were as the WMU game reached a 26-point lead.  However, these are nice-to-haves.  It is irrational to melt down if we see another ground & pound blowout over a MAC school.    

Michigan Defense (9th) vs. NIU Offense (108th)

There is one very clear difference between Mike MacDonald and his predecessor Don Brown that we don’t hear enough about.  MacDonald and the defensive staff clearly believe in the value of game experience for younger players down the depth chart.  I did a small double take when I saw both Junior Colson and Rod Moore on the field during the 1st Quarter of the Washington game with a 3-0 score.  We should really see a lot of unfamiliar faces in this one.  I do believe SP+ is underrating the NIU offense a little bit after they put up 395 total yards, including 191 yards on the ground, versus Wyoming last week.  Still, anything but utter domination and the bench emptying will be a disappointment.

PREDICTION: This is a ripe opportunity for an underwhelming hangover performance coming off last week’s Maize Out night game victory.  We are hearing the right coach speak about “…not falling in love with our stuff,” from Jim Harbaugh.  The players have reiterated “…we haven’t done anything yet,” when they are in front of the media.  We’ll see if the captains and other player leaders can actually turn those clichés into focus and enthusiasm right away, or if there is a sleepy start to this game.  One potential smelling salt for the Wolverines: the NIU quarterback is Rocky Lombardi.  He has some very valuable and recent experience catching Michigan asleep in the Big House.
Michigan 45 NIU 13 (PRESEASON Michigan 45 NIU 17)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/12/21), 2-0

  • SP+ Overall: 6th (↑1), 22.1
  • SP+ Offense: 13th (↑1), 37.3
  • SP+ Defense: 9th (↑1), 15.5
  • SP+ Special Teams: 5th (↑6), 0.2

AP Poll: 25th (NR), 163

Coaches’ Poll: 25th (NR), 180

CFP Rank: N/A

U-M Resume after Game #2

Michigan 31 Washington 10 – Game 2 Recap

2021_01_UM41_WMU14-72

GAME 2 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 31-10, Michigan by 21 over Washington
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 9 (+12)
CD Projection: Michigan by 6 (+15)

FIVE FACTORS

GAME 2 RECAP vs. Washington

For the second week in a row, Michigan outperformed my expectations, and SP+ projections, this time by dismantling the Huskies in front of an energetic Big House crowd. The Wolverines looked sharp as they executed the game plans on both sides of the ball. Even though this matchup lost some shine nationally after Washington’s Week 1 loss to FCS Montana, the team and the fan base still created another electric atmosphere Under the Lights in Ann Arbor. It was a vintage Jim Harbaugh era performance that featured run game flexing on offense, and a physical swarming defense.

Offensively, the Wolverines’ rushing attack pounded Washington mercilessly by calling run plays 78% of the game. Those play calls yielded 343 rushing yards, a 51% success rate, and an average EPA of 0.467. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum split the work load relatively evenly again. The complementary nature of Haskins’ power (5.7 yards/carry) and Corum’s speed (3 TDs including a 67-yarder) earned a nickname in our house that I loved as soon as I heard it: we’ll be referring to the RB duo as Boom & Zoom.

Michigan’s defense also imposed their will in this game, led by captain Aiden Hutchinson. Hutchinson and his squad created consistent pressure on the QB. By the time Washington was able to find any holes in zone coverage, Michigan was up two scores. In fact, the Wolverines extended Washington’s offensive drought nearly to the end of the 3rd quarter when the Huskies were able to get a field goal. Their 4th quarter touchdown drive happened while Michigan led by 21, making it effectively garbage time. This Washington offense is not the best on the schedule by any stretch. But, through two weeks, I would say Mike MacDonald’s defensive install is ahead of schedule.

The special teams unit was a strength again, also. Jim Harbaugh’s fake punt call in the 2nd quarter not only paid off for a 1st down conversion, but Blake Corum scampered 67 yards for a touchdown on the very next snap. Jake Moody converted his career long field goal of 52 yards to open the scoring. Only one kickoff was returned, and former Wolverine Giles Jackson was unable to cross the 25 on that return. We did witness a couple shaky punt returns, but Caden Kolesar managed to return his second opportunity for 20 yards.

Again, the Wolverines took care of business at home. Some significant questions remain on both sides of the ball, but mostly because we aren’t sure how strong these first two opponents actually were. In terms of what we’ve seen, Jim Harbaugh has this team executing cleanly right now, and embracing a strong physical identity in all phases.

By the Numbers: Game 2 vs. Washington

2021_01_UM41_WMU14-32021_01_UM41_WMU14-37

LAST WEEK RECAP

Joy returned to Ann Arbor surrounding a 47-14 performance against Western Michigan to open the 2021 season.

NEXT UP: vs. Washington: 20th, 13.7

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 9.4, Michigan Win Probability 71%

In his Week 1 over-reactions column, ESPN’s Bill Connelly highlights Michigan as one of the big movers, up 10 spots to 7th overall.  Western Michigan also plummeted to 97th.  Washington’s loss to FCS Montana drops them 7 spots from 13th to 20th.

Michigan Offense (14th) vs. Washington Defense (23rd) 

Jim Harbaugh acknowledged that Michigan has been preparing for this game since fall camp, which is pretty standard.  The offense will be trying to build on the successful execution of their Week 1 game plan.  However, the challenge against Washington, the #1 defense in the Pac 12 in 2020, is on a much different level than Week 1.  

For me, the burning question is how Josh Gattis will use post-snap reads from QB Cade McNamara.  We didn’t see any hint of a QB run threat on zone read option plays until Dan Villari entered in garbage time.  I would expect Michigan to use run-pass-option plays (RPOs) against linebackers and safeties, as opposed to read option run plays against defensive ends, in an attempt to keep QB1 healthy.   

Michigan Defense (10th) vs. Washington Offense (27th)

Usually in Week 1, we get a few answers to questions from the offseason.  For Michigan’s defense, we learned what being “multiple” could look like this season.  We saw a mix of even and odd fronts, both man and zone coverages, and a wide range of personnel packages.  However, we might have more questions about Washington’s offense now than when the 2021 season started.  The Huskies only mustered 89 rushing yards against Montana in their opener, and QB Dylan Morris was sacked 3 times.  Morris was shorthanded when it came to weapons, as 3 WRs who were expected to play significant snaps were held out of the opener.  

I am keeping a “wait and see” approach to this matchup.  Sometimes a team can outsmart themselves by keeping their offensive game plan hidden because they think they can rely on superior talent.  We may be witnessing an example of that from Washington’s offense.  I expect them to look better under the lights, on the national TV broadcast, against Michigan.  

PREDICTION: Last week I called for the offense and special teams to give the defense some breathing room (check & check).  This week I am sending the call to Mike MacDonald’s defense.  While Washington’s loss was eye-opening, the real shock was that their offense went on sabbatical after scoring on their first possession vs. Montana.  Michigan will have to keep that offense smothered, especially if the Huskies are still missing 3 of their top WRs. 

The Washington defense under Jimmy Lake is going to be a very stiff test for the Wolverines’ offense.  This game is starting to feel a little bit low scoring, and probably will stay tight throughout the contest.  In the preseason I thought the Huskies’ returning experience on offense would be the difference, but there is no way I can stick with that perception after seeing their struggles in Week 1.  Under the lights this Saturday night, it will be the defense who will be called into the spotlight in some big moments.
Michigan 23 Washington 17 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Washington 30)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/7/21), 1-0

SP+ Overall: 7th (↑10), 20.6
SP+ Offense: 14th (↑14), 36.7
SP+ Defense: 10th (same), 16.2
SP+ Special Teams: 11th, 0.1

AP Poll: NR

Coaches’ Poll: NRCFP Rank: N/A

Resume after Game #1

Michigan 47 WMU 14 – Game 1 Recap

Today was a good day!

GAME 1 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 47-14, Michigan by 33 over WMU
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 19 (+14)
CD Projection: Michigan by 13 (+20)

FIVE FACTORS

GAME 1 RECAP vs. WMU

Offensively, Michigan looked sharp and got multiple playmakers involved. A few early deep balls to Ronnie Bell showed that the Wolverines will threaten the field vertically. A swing pass completed to Blake Corum for a 14 yard touchdown served to stretch the defense horizontally. Josh Gattis’ group was able to build a big lead quick enough to get meaningful snaps for everybody we wanted to see, including a 69 yard bomb from freshman JJ McCarthy to newcomer Daylen Baldwin. The only rain cloud on this day for the offense appeared when their leader, Bell, came up limping after returning a punt in the 2nd quarter, and was carted off.

As great as Michigan’s offense looked in the opener, the biggest positive I am taking away is from the defense. Mike MacDonald implemented a solid game plan that held Western’s highly efficient pass offense to 191 yards on the day. Dax Hill clearly took a step forward this offseason. He made his presence felt throughout the first 3 quarters, especially fighting off blocks and making tackles near the line of scrimmage. The Wolverines were able to play a large rotation of defensive linemen, and the interior held up after some early challenges. Finally, and thank goodness for this, the corners on the outside were in good position to make plays on vertical routes. After Gemon Green initially gave up a sideline fade I felt a familiar doubt, but the DBs were able to adjust and clamp down early in the 2nd quarter.

The special teams not only held their own, but provided an early spark in this game. Blake Corum returned a kickoff 79 yards to set up Michigan’s second score, a Q1 field goal. Jake Moody was perfect on 2 field goal attempts and 5 PATs. The Wolverines’ field position advantage was worth a full point per drive, even after removing garbage time.

Overall, there are no major question marks that remain unaddressed after today’s performance. The biggest remaining issue is the health of OL Zak Zinter and WR Ronnie Bell, and their status for next week’s big matchup with #20 Washington. Phil and I joked in the 2nd half that some fans will still find some issues to be concerned with. Maybe they miss the drama between factions of the fan base. For me, I am 100% fine with this “boring” outcome. Onward!