ANN ARBOR, Mich. – I’m making a very un-Jim Harbaugh-esque request for them Michigan football team this weekend, and I think it makes a lot of sense: focus on pass attack versus Connecticut this weekend.
If you watched the Wolverines during the Harbaugh era, you know this is a run-first offense. That might not translate to the flashy offensive numbers that people across the country have become accustomed to, but it worked well when Michigan marched into the college football playoffs a year ago.
This season, Michigan’s running is in great form once again, with Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards and rising rookie CJ Stokes leading the way.
But I think the Wolverines should move away from the ongoing game – just for a week.
For starters, it sounds like Michigan could do without Edwards, who Harbaugh says is “working through a bit” after leaving the Hawaii game with an injury. Instead of splitting those Edwards carries between Corum, Stokes, Tavierre Dunlap and Isaiah Gash, I think Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss should let new quarterback JJ McCarthy throw the ball around.
McCarthy has only one collegiate start under his belt, and after this week he’ll be put into Big Ten games. Sure, Maryland isn’t exactly the most daunting matchup, but the Terrapins won seven games last year and are going unbeaten. You will not be a weakling.
Then McCarthy meets one of the best defenses in the country in Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ runner-up thrives on forced turnovers — it’s the sole reason they made the Big Ten Championship Game a year ago. McCarthy has the ball to look after at Kinnick Stadium, so getting him more replays in the final reconciliation game of the season should be a priority.
Most starting quarterbacks have already played several full games to get into the momentum of the season, but with McCarthy sharing time with Cade McNamara in both practice and the first two games, he could do the extra work this weekend use his wide receivers.
Speaking of receivers, there’s an elephant in that room, and I think a lot of Michigan fans have concerns in the back of their minds.
The wide receiver room is very, very crowded, especially when the tight ends are factored into the equation. Already this season, 16 different players have caught a pass for the Wolverines, but only two have more than three passes.
Anyone who follows college football these days knows that lack of use can often lead to transfers, and that’s something that needs to be considered for Michigan staff.
Take Andrel Anthony for example. One of last year’s team’s rising stars has just one catch for five yards this season. We’re talking about someone who caught a 99-yard touchdown at Spartan Stadium and scored in the college football playoffs as a true freshman, and so far he has as many tackles as receptions.
Anthony hasn’t done anything to suggest he would make a move, but if Michigan plans to stay mostly with Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson through conference play, then where will the catches for the true runner-up come from?
For a run-heavy team like Michigan, the number of receptions available is already limited, so there’s a chance players like Anthony, AJ Henning and the true freshmen will end the season with catches in the single digits.
Michigan can obviously still win this way, but with Bell and Johnson likely moving to the NFL this offseason, losing others on the depth chart could really weaken offense in 2023.
Maybe the prospect of more playing time next season is enough to keep everyone on board, but even so, it wouldn’t hurt to throw the ball in Anthony’s direction four or five times in a game where Michigan can get anything .
Make sure Darrius Clemons gets his first career catch. Throw Amorion Walker an umbrella and let him use his speed. Perform a few sweeps on Henning.
Corum and Stokes will get their stretcher all year round, especially if Edwards misses the time. There doesn’t seem to be much need to force feed them against the huskies 15 times apiece. Get the ball to players who may not be as involved over the next 10 weeks.
I know Harbaugh loves to run the ball and he wants to reward the tight ends that do such an excellent job of blocking. But he also needs to keep his most talented playmakers happy and Saturday is a risk-free opportunity to do that before the schedule ramps up.
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