There is perhaps no fan base in the country more convinced that they are “a quarterback away” than Michigan. That might be accurate, as the Michigan defense and run game have largely been very good since Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2015. But it is the offense that has never quite come together, ultimately causing Harbaugh to make substantial staff changes, namely bringing in Josh Gattis as OC. He has spent time at Penn State and Alabama, and hopes to bring some of that offensive magic to Ann Arbor.
“Speed in space” is the new mantra. There have not been this many pistol formations, spread ideas, and tempo concepts since Rich Rod was coach. Has Harbaugh truly abandoned I-formations and fullbacks for good?
Michigan hopes Cade McNamara is the answer
I suppose the real question is, has it been the quarterback or the system that has held Michigan back in recent years? Likely a combination of both, and so far the McNamara/Gattis experience in 2021 has been positive. McNamara got his first taste of starting experience in the 2020 season, against Rutgers and Penn State. He threw 4 TDs and completed 75% of passes against the Scarlet Knights but his numbers took a nosedive against Penn State, not even cracking 100 yards passing. So much went wrong for Michigan last year it’s hard to take away much.
Last week against Western Michigan, the Wolverines seemingly got this turned around, though they only threw the ball 17 times. McNamara got 11 of those attempts, completing 9 of them for two TDs, which was good enough to be Michigan’s highest rated player per PFF. His long touchdown to now injured WR Ronnie Bell accounted for most of his yards, and it is clear the offensive plan was to keep him reigned in and lean on the running game. He is a very poised and in control quarterback who sees the field well and makes the right reads. At least, that is what he has shown so far. What could potentially separate him is his athleticism to make the vaunted “off platform throws”. This is a playmaking element at the QB position Michigan has been missing, and he might be the answer.
Bell Injury Blow
The only real negative from Michigan’s 47 point outing was losing their best deep threat and all around offensive star, WR Ronnie Bell. It’s a tough break for an offense trying to find its footing and establish a new identity. AJ Henning and former Husky recruit Roman Wilson will look to pick up the slack. Wilson in particular is a real burner with elite quickness and had a 43 yard rush against Western Michigan. Henning is a bit smaller but can score from anywhere. He is the exact type of playmaker from the slot that Josh Gattis wants in space.
Jackson State transfer Daylen Baldwin hasn’t played a game since 2018 but brings 6-2 size to Michigan’s WR room, and caught a 69 yard TD last week in his debut. He was PFF’s second highest rated player and someone Michigan fans are excited about. Mike Sainristil is a guy they love for his blocking and opening things up for the running backs.
Deep at Running Back
Like Washington, Michigan wants to be a physical running team, no matter what offensive system they align with. It is seemingly hardcoded into the DNA of Michigan football. While they look to spread things out, they have a talented stable (ahem...) of running backs to choose from. It ultimately was the run game that moved the ball for Michigan against Western as they churned out 335 yards on the ground.
The top two options are Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Haskins started his career at Michigan as a linebacker and that experience has helped develop his physicality, but also his ability to read blocks and see running lanes. He’s a physical runner who is tough to bring down. He is not terribly explosive and it remains to be seen how his role evolves moving forward as Gattis looks to generate more speed and catching out of the backfield. That is where Blake Corum comes in. After a promising 2020 freshman campaign, he led the team in carries last week and finished with 111 yards and a TD. He has great burst and body control to go along with reliable hands.
Lastly, there is true freshman Donovan Edwards, a national top 50 recruit. He’s a physical between the tackles runner but has more than enough lateral agility and burst to break open big runs. Where he fits into the rotation with Haskins and Corum will be something to watch.
Michigan will likely to run the ball against Washington early and often. They have a young QB and pass game that is still coming together, while they sport a deep running back group and good offensive line. Washington’s defense is still very good, but has lost an edge in the past couple of years, particularly against the run. They are hardly porous, but it feels like they aren’t plugging the middle like they used to. Sacks and tackles for loss have been hard to come by in the post-ZTF reality in which we all find ourselves. When Michigan is facing a critical 3rd down with 2 or 3 yards to go, will Washington stuff them or allow the first down? In a vacuum, allowing 2 yards per rush is great. But it’s these key situations where the defense needs to tighten up and give zero yards. The play of Washington’s safeties will be key here too; they need to help in run support but also not let anything behind them. I am sure Michigan is looking at Washington’s inexperience at safety and hoping to go over the top. The new look Michigan offense will take more deep shots and be more aggressive than years past.
Here’s to hoping the Huskies have the best Cade on the field.
How many points will Michigan score?
35 or more