Ahead of the National Championship, I caught up with Jake Singer of Maize N’Brew to discuss the Wolverines:
MS: Coach Jim Harbaugh seems to be the perfect fit as Michigan head coach. A consummate example of the “Michigan Man”, he has revitalized the Michigan program in ways that those before him could not. What has he brought to the table in his ninth season in Ann Arbor?
JS: Jim Harbaugh has earned the reputation of a father figure to every player on the roster. He may appear to be tight-lipped and closed off to the media, but the players love him, respect him, and want to play their best for him. He has also brought in some of the best coordinators in College football such as Jesse Minter, Sherrone Moore, Mike Hart, Steve Clinkscale, and others who have either played for Michigan football in the past or have been around the program for many years. They know how Michigan football runs, they bought into the culture and they prioritize rest and rotation over fatigue. For the players, knowing their position coach wore the winged helmet pushes them even harder.
MS: Though not as explosive as Washington’s pass attack, JJ McCarthy is still a force in the pass game. He has racked up 2851 yards, 22 touchdowns and 4 interceptions at a 9.1 yard average. What do you like about his game, and what do Husky fans need to watch out for with him?
JS: J.J. is interesting because you want him to throw for 300 yards every game but he isn’t needed to do that. What I like most about him is his ability to be a game manager while also having the composure to lead a scoring drive whenever he’s been needed to. He is good at throwing on the run (maybe more effectively than in the pocket), he is good with his legs and he has a cannon of an arm. He was injured from Penn State through the Big Ten Championship, so the offense became conservative, but against Alabama, he appeared to be his normal self. If he is able to make good throws and smart decisions, he will be a big factor against the Washington defense.
MS: Blake Corum leads a formidable running attack, with another good running back in Donavan Edwards. Corum has 1111 yards and 25 trips to the end zone, at 4.7 yards per carry. He’s also running behind a formidable offensive line. What is so great about the running game, and how does Washington stop it, if at all?
JS: Michigan shook up its running game this season by including more gap schemes and zone runs than last season. Part of this is because of the offensive line shake-ups throughout the season, but no matter who is on the line, Blake Corum has been able to get yards. What makes the run game so effective is that the defense always has to be prepared for J.J. to throw the ball and Sherrone Moore disguises many plays so the defense is always guessing. The way to stop the run would be to add an extra man in the box, which Maryland did with some success, but most of all, it’s going up by a few scores and forcing the Wolverines to throw the ball.
MS: Roman Wilson and Colston Loveland lead these pass catchers statistically. Wilson has 735 yards and 12 touchdowns on 45 catches. Loveland has 585 yards and 4 touchdowns on 42 catches. What are these pass catchers asked to do in a run-heavy scheme, and who are the underrated receivers in this offense?
JS: Michigan has asked a lot of its skill position players this year, both in the run and pass game. First, both Roman Wilson and Colston Loveland are phenomenal pass-catchers with good route-running abilities. Roman has speed and breaks well at the top of his routes. You would think Sherrone Moore would run a lot of shallow and underneath routes for him, but he goes deep a lot, running posts, and deep outs, and he is the most dangerous when McCarthy is scrambling out of the pocket. Wilson is J.J.’s number-one target when he’s on the run. Loveland and Barner are McCarthy’s safety blankets. When J.J. needs a first down or five yards on second down or even fourth and three, he looks to his tight ends. They are also hugely impactful in the run game with FB/TE Max Bredeson. They can be lined up in 12 personnel which the team loves to do, or they will be split out wide. You always need to be aware of where the tight ends are in this offense.
MS: The hallmark of the Wolverines is their defense, giving up 10.2 points and 243.1 yards per game. However, they have not faced an offense like Washington’s. What do you like about this defense, who are the key contributors, and how can they stop Washington’s attack?
JS: The defense is filled with dawgs at every level. Not just one either. Michigan has a plethora of skilled players at every position, which allows the coaching staff to rotate guys in and out a lot to keep players fresh. On the defensive line, Michigan has Braiden McGregor and Josiah Stewart on the outside and Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant and Kris Jenkins on the inside. All of them can get to the quarterback, stop the run and are fast enough to track down the QB when they get out of the pocket. Defensive line coach, Mike Elston, runs rally groups to get fresh guys in at critical moments in order to have energetic players sub in for tired players, so they can go up against tired offensive linemen. This system allows for a lot of players to get in the game and be 100 percent every snap they play. Because of this, you may see the same D-linemen for three plays and then a completely different line for the next three plays. This also means the offensive line has to study 12 guys vs. six. In the second level, Mike Barrett has been with the program for six years and continues to finish any tackle the defensive line missed. Finally, in the secondary, Will Johnson will be on Odunze most likely, who shut down Marvin Harrison Jr. until he got hurt at the end of the first half. Mike Sainristil is the nickel corner, who has been climbing up draft boards this season with his ballhawk ability and Rod Moore made touchdown-saving tackles against Alabama at the safety position. Teams have been able to throw on the Wolverines this season, but scoring has been the issue for opposing teams. Their turnover ability and their speed at getting to the quarterback have kept opposing offenses on their toes.
MS: It’s all come down to this: #1 Michigan vs. #2 Washington. Another Game of the Century in Houston. What is the score going to be and who will hoist the trophy on Monday night?
JS: Michigan 38, Washington 31. The Huskies have one of the best offenses in the country with a veteran quarterback who finds ways to score. I don’t see them being held to under 24. Nonetheless, the Huskies’ defense has not been great all season, and I do see Michigan controlling the clock, running the ball and doing just a little more to win the game.
Thanks Jake, and thank you all for reading these questions and answers this season! It has been an honor writing these for you all!