Michigan Wolverines football is a perfect 6-0 halfway through the season. Here, we assign letter grades for each of the Maize and Blue’s position groups on offense, breaking down what they’ve done so far and any trends to keep an eye on.
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Michigan Football Quarterbacks: B
Redshirt freshman starting signal-caller Cade McNamara hasn’t been dynamic this season, but he’s been extremely solid and effective at managing games, not making mistakes and delivering on the throws he needs to hit on at big-time moments.
McNamara has completed 72 of 119 passes (60.5 percent) for 986 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception and one sack taken. He’s only been asked to throw 19.8 times per game, the second-lowest mark out of Big Ten starters, but has a passer rating of 142.3 (seventh in the league) and an 8.3 yards per attempt average (fourth).
“The positive with McNamara is his quick and smart decision-making,” PFF analyst Anthony Treash wrote after the Wolverines’ 32-29 win over Nebraska last week. “He hasn’t recorded a turnover-worthy play on 84 dropbacks and is getting the ball out at one of the five quickest averages in the Power Five — 2.43 seconds. This has helped him not take a sack on 23 dropbacks and average 10.7 yards per attempt versus the blitz.
“The big question mark is his ability to accurately hit throws into smaller windows down the football field.”
Michigan has thrown a wrinkle in at quarterback the last two weeks, with freshman J.J. McCarthy receiving the first meaningful playing time of his career. The Wolverines have used him mostly as a runner on read-option plays, but he’s shown the ability to air it out when given the opportunity. For the season, he’s completed 9 of 14 pass attempts for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 17 yards and one score on eight carries, showing that the future is bright behind center.
Michigan Football Running Backs: A
We pegged the running backs as the team’s top position group coming into the season, and they’ve done nothing but exceed the already high expectations.
Sophomore Hassan Haskins and second-year freshman Blake Corum rank eighth and fifth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, respectively, with 82.0 and 101.7, respectively. They’re tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns, each possessing eight for the season. As a whole, the Maize and Blue have churned out 246.5 yards rushing per contest, which slots eighth nationally.
The Wolverines’ offensive philosophy has been predicated on the success of the run game, and that has started on first down. They’ve run the ball 130 times on first down (the 14th-most in college football), totaling 772 yards (5.9 yards per carry), 11 touchdowns and 27 first downs, per Sports Info Solutions.
Not only have Haskins and Corum put offensive coordinator Josh Gattis in better position to exploit defenses in second- and third-down situations by gaining positive yardage on the first play of a set of downs, but they’ve been able to pop big runs. The Wolverines have broken 14 rushes of 20-plus yards, which ranks tied for seventh in the nation.
That combination of steadiness and explosiveness has made Michigan’s ‘thunder and lightning’ duo one of the country’s top tandems.
Michigan Football Tight Ends: C+
Michigan has placed a lot of responsibility on its tight ends, especially in the run game. The Wolverines have used 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) 123 times this season — their most common grouping — and have totaled 637 yards and eight touchdowns on 123 attempts. Three tight ends have been on the field on the field 29 times, mostly in goal-line situations, and have helped the team score six touchdowns.
While Michigan has seen success running the ball while tight ends are blocking, all three primary players at the position — sophomore Erick All, redshirt sophomore Luke Schoonmaker and redshirt junior Joel Honigford — rank in the bottom half of the offense in run blocking, per PFF.
The pass game is where the tight ends have been less involved, though they’ve shown the potential to become threats down the field when used. All has been the headliner as a pass-catcher, hauling in 11 balls for 123 yards, while Schoonmaker has notched just four receptions for 41 yards and Honigford has posted one catch for 10 yards.
That said, the last two weeks have been promising, with the tight ends accounting for 10 of the team’s 40 receptions and 105 of the squad’s 508 receiving yards, picking up five key first downs in the process.
Michigan Football Wide Receivers: C
It wasn’t anybody’s fault, but junior wide receiver Ronnie Bell‘s season-ending knee injury has hurt the group in a number of ways. He had led the Wolverines in receiving yards each of the last two seasons, and in the two quarters of action he got this season, he appeared to have taken the next step in his game.
An already thin wide receiver room has seen others step up, namely sophomore Cornelius Johnson (14 catches for 282 yards and three touchdowns) and redshirt junior Jackson State transfer Daylen Baldwin (12 grabs for 219 yards and two scores), but is void of a go-to target on big downs. The week after second-year freshman Roman Wilson enjoyed a breakout game at Wisconsin, catching six passes for 81 yards, he was sidelined with a wrist injury suffered in practice.
The Wolverines’ pass-catchers rank 62nd nationally, according to PFF, while struggling to create separation at times. In addition, they’ve come down with just 81 of the 104 catchable passes thrown their way, according to Sports Info Solutions, with eight drops.
None of the receivers outside of Bell have posted an above average PFF grade (64.0 or higher) in the run-blocking category.
Michigan Football Offensive Line: A-
There are some really encouraging stats surrounding Michigan’s offensive line.
The unit has given up just two sacks — only one on McNamara — and has allowed only 11 hits on the quarterback and 21 hurries in 147 pass-blocking snaps.
Paving the way for the running backs discussed above has been an aggressive offensive line that has jelled quicker than many imagined. Four out of five starters (all but redshirt sophomore left tackle Ryan Hayes) have posted above-average PFF run-blocking grades, and they’ve yielded just 2.2 tackles for loss per contest, which is the best mark in the nation. The offensive line can take credit for a lot of the stats mentioned with the ball-carriers.
First-year offensive line coach Sherrone Moore, who switched over from coaching tight ends, has stressed unity among the group, and it has paid off to this point. There have been some ups and downs, and they’ve got a couple guys banged up at the current moment, but offensive line is an area of strength for the Wolverines.
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