Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . A.J. Henning. Henning has been a decent receiver (3 catches, 36 yards) and an outstanding runner (2 rushes, 100 yards, 1 TD) early in the season, but when push came to shove against Rutgers, the coaching staff almost completely ignored him. His only overall touch was on a punt return, and the only attempt to get him the ball on offense was an early fade route on the outside. Michigan needs to make more of a concerted effort to get guys like Henning the ball on the edge.
Well, that was an unexpected nail-biter. I was spot on with my prediction of Rutgers scoring 13 points, but I thought Michigan would have a bit easier time on offense (I predicted 34 points). For two years in a row, Michigan has beaten Rutgers by just one score (they won 48-42 in triple overtime in 2020), and it's frustrating to an extent that the Wolverines can't play better despite being significantly more talented, especially on offense. Rutgers has mediocre players on the offensive line, at quarterback, and at tight end, yet they manage to scheme their way to a modicum of success. But a win is a win. We've seen these games turn into losses, so I'll take it for now.
RUSH OFFENSE vs. RUTGERS RUSH DEFENSE Michigan is the #1 rushing team in the country, averaging 350 yards per game on 7.15 yards per carry (#4). The two most relevant players are Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who are almost identical in attempts this year: 48 and 49, respectively. Corum is the more explosive one (8.5 yards/carry, 7 touchdowns) while Haskins (5.7 yards/carry, 4 touchdowns) is the Steady Eddie. The unsung heroes of that rushing offense, of course, are the offensive linemen, who are blasting people up front. That group is led by center Andrew Vastardis. Rutgers is #49 in rushing defense (113 yards allowed/game) and #46 in yards allowed per carry (3.39). Those numbers are bolstered by the quality of opponent so far, which has included Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. Advantage: Michigan
I previously posted the all-time career yardage leaders (LINK). Now it's time to reminisce about the best rushing seasons ever in a Michigan uniform. I set out to post the top 25, but going to 33 allowed me to include all 1,000-yard gainers, so I extended the list a bit.
Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . A.J. Henning. Henning is averaging 50.0 yards per carry and 12.0 yards per reception. Those are pretty good numbers, but he only has 5 offensive touches so far this season (2 rushes, 3 receptions). As the season goes along, I would like to see him get the ball more, particularly in the passing game.
Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . nobody.
Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Jordan Whittley. This has nothing to do with the play on the field, but as long as it doesn't put the game at risk, I would like to see Whittley get more playing time so he can work himself into shape. Listed at 348 pounds, he could be a key component at nose tackle down the stretch, but his snaps are limited right now due to conditioning.
Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . nobody.
Play of the game . . . Cade McNamara's 87-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Johnson. Not only did the pass go into the record books as Michigan's third-longest pass in school history, but it was just exciting to see Michigan take a deep shot and hit it. It was one of those plays where you could hear and feel the excitement in the stadium as Johnson ran a stop-and-go on the right sideline, got himself about five yards of separation, and then pulled away from an overmatched NIU cornerback.
Player of the game . . . Andrew Vastardis. It's not often that I go with a lineman for player of the game, but I thought Vastardis played very well. Granted, the opposition wasn't stellar, but that could be said at pretty much every position for Michigan. Playing center, Vastardis and the offensive line didn't get confused by much of anything Northern Illinois threw at them, and he made some very nice blocks in the running game. Michigan ran 48 times for 373 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and 8 touchdowns, the second-most rushing touchdowns in school history.
This is the expectation. It's nice to see that Michigan met expectations for once. This kind of beatdown is what Michigan should do on a pretty regular basis against overmatched MAC-level opponents. We've seen losses (2008 Toledo), close wins (2014 Akron), and other mild scares against the MAC, as well as a bunch of dominant victories. But Michigan should never really be within arm's reach of a MAC opponent. The line should be too big, the skill guys should be too fast, and the coaches should be too smart.
RUSH OFFENSE vs. NIU RUSH DEFENSE After last week's outstanding performance on the ground, Michigan is #4 nationally in rushing with 339 yards per game, as well as #5 in yards per carry (6.85). The Wolverines have a home run hitter in sophomore Blake Corum (35 carries, 282 yards, 4 TD), who has a 67-yard run and a 79-yard kickoff return on his resume so far this year. They also have a steady pounder in Hassan Haskins (40 carries, 225 yards, 2 TD), who breaks tackles with regularity. Michigan's offensive line is huge and mauled Washington last week. The only real question seems to be whether fifth year senior Chuck Filiaga or sophomore Zak Zinter starts at right guard, since the latter has been dealing with a cast on his hand. Northern Illinois is #121 (232 rushing yards allowed per game) and #101 (4.78 yards allowed per carry) in run defense. They are extremely young on defense, with nine starters in either their first or second year. Unsurprisingly, the leading tackler is fifth year senior middle linebacker Lance Deveaux, Jr. (5'11", 218), followed by sophomore linebacker Nick Rattin (6'2", 223) and freshman corner Eric Rogers (6'2", 180). The Huskies run, in effect, a 4-2-5 defense and their biggest starting defensive lineman is nose tackle James Ester, a redshirt freshman who checks in at 286 lbs., though a couple rotational backups are over 290. After what Michigan did to Washington, it would be crazy to expect this to be anything less than a large mismatch. Advantage: Michigan
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady continues to play like a much younger man. The 44-year-old Brady completed 32/50 passes for 379 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in a 31-29 win over the Cowboys on Thursday night. His first interception was a screen pass thrown to running back Leonard Fournette that was right at his facemask and bounced off his hands, and the second was a Hail Mary attempt that was picked off by Jourdan Lewis at the end of the first half. Here's his first touchdown of the 2021 season:
Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . a wide receiver catching the ball. Michigan completed just 3 passes to wide receivers on Saturday night, and just 7 in total. Washington has a formidable defense, but wide receivers are going to get frustrated pretty quickly if they don't start getting the ball once in a while to show off their skills. Cornelius Johnson (1 catch, 33 yards), A.J. Henning (1 catch, 1 yard), and Mike Sainristil (1 catch, -1 yard) got the ball, which means Roman Wilson and Daylen Baldwin didn't.
Run, run, and run again. Michigan fans on Twitter were getting pretty grumpy about running the ball, but I don't have a problem with it.* It turns out that despite the rumored good defense that Washington was bringing to Ann Arbor, they couldn't fit the run properly. Michigan ran 56 times for 343 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line didn't provide a ton of gaping holes, but they provided enough room for slippery backs like Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins to make hay. The last time Michigan ran for more yards was in the rain during the 2017 game against Minnesota, when Chris Evans and Karan Higdon ran wild to the tune of 370 rushing yards. You do what you have to do to win the game, and Michigan was obviously destroying the Huskies with the run.
*Except I do have a problem with it. I know I lied above. And I apologize. I don't have a problem with running the ball like mad when it's an attempt to win an individual game, but it's going to be very hard to recruit good receivers on the edge if you don't throw the ball. Josh Gattis came in with the "speed in space" mantra and that borrowed some time for the Wolverines, but now they're reverting to the Jim Harbaugh days of yore. If I'm a good wide receiver, I have zero interest in playing for Michigan. Michigan wide receivers caught just three (3!!!) balls on Saturday night in a comfortable, three-touchdown win. The leading receiver was Blake Corum with 3 catches himself for just 11 yards.
Aaron Alexander - LB - Belleville (MI) Belleville: Alexander is committed to Michigan (LINK).
Lander Barton - LB - Salt Lake City (UT) Brighton: Barton is a 6'4", 215 lb. prospect with offers from Michigan, Texas, and Utah, among others. He's a 4-star, the #21 linebacker, and #187 overall. Numerous family members went to Utah, so he will be a tough pull from the Utes. This is an official visit.
Joshua Conerly - OT - Seattle (WA) Rainier: Conerly is a 6'5", 275-pounder with offers from Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas, among others. He's a 5-star, the #3 offensive tackle, and #20 overall. This is an official visit.
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Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . A.J. Henning. Assuming Ronnie Bell is out for a while (hopefully not!), I think Henning is probably the guy who needs to see more touches. Michigan needs a guy who can run through tackles and make something happen after the catch. As much as I like Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, and other guys, I'm not sure that any receiver besides Henning can offer that ability after the catch. Henning had a 74-yard touchdown on an end around and caught 1 pass for 11 yards from J.J. McCarthy.
Cade McNamara > Joe Milton. Redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara had a game that Joe Milton could only dream of, and that included completing 9/11 passes for 136 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. It doesn't matter if you can throw a ball 80 yards if you don't know where the ball is going. McNamara has the ability to recognize matchups and read defenses, and those skills trump Howitzers for arms. His best two passes of the day were beautiful deep balls to . . .
Ronnie Bell. Bell made a great one-handed catch on the sideline (nullified by a very questionable offensive pass interference call) and a great 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown. That at the end of an exciting 31-yard punt return, he seemed to slump to the ground when getting tackled and was swarmed by medical personnel. When he left the field, he had to be carried and his right leg was just dangling. My fear is that he tore his ACL while making a cut at the end of the run. Bell is a captain, led the team in receiving the past two years, and was bound to lead the team in that category once again in 2021. After losing Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye, and Jalen Mayfield to injury in 2020, it's frustrating that Michigan couldn't avoid a serious injury even one game into the season against a MAC opponent.
Here it is, the final countdown! I hope you guys enjoyed reading this year, which was a record for the number of posts. No other website profiles the top 131 players in Michigan's program, do they? Nope! And I'll tell you why:
Name: Aidan Hutchinson Height: 6'6" Weight: 265 lbs. High school: Dearborn (MI) Divine Child Position: Outside linebacker Class: Senior Jersey number: #97 Last year: I ranked Hutchinson #88 and said he would be the starting strongside end (LINK). He made 15 tackles. TTB Rating: 88
Hutchinson's solid 2019 season seemed to have him primed for a huge year in 2020, so when he made 15 tackles from his defensive end position in the first two games, it seemed like he was tracking well. Then he got hurt early in the third game against Indiana, and I felt a little bit of life drain out of me. Michigan was already in bad shape, having lost to Michigan State and, in that game, having lost Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, too. The Wolverines were cursed in 2020.
Hutchinson himself has a relentless motor. Along with those impressive 15 tackles for a defensive lineman across two games, he seemed one or two steps away from making several sacks. I don't know that I've seen another defensive lineman come this close to making as many hits on the quarterback, but still, Hutchinson's production has just been okay, not stellar.
Going into the 2021 season, Hutchinson is Michigan's most important player. The team did not perform well at all last season once he got injured, and they were lifeless on defense. Nobody else seemed capable of putting pressure on the quarterback, and teams didn't have to run away from anyone, either. It was open season on the entire Michigan defense. Hutchinson is an emotional leader on and off the field, which is supported by his naming as captain. Some prognosticators have him going in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and while I don't think he will have enough production to be an All-American, that's not out of the question.
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Name: Cade McNamara Height: 6'1" Weight: 212 lbs. High school: Reno (NV) Damonte Ranch Position: Quarterback Class: Redshirt sophomore Jersey number: #12 Last year: I ranked McNamara #65 and said he would be a backup quarterback (LINK). He completed 43/71 passes for 425 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions; he also ran for 1 touchdown. TTB Rating: 65
My, what a ride it's been in just a couple seasons for Cade McNamara. Thought by many to be a down-the-road option at quarterback for a team that had Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey, and Joe Milton when he committed, that road got a lot shorter in a hurry. Patterson graduated and moved on, McCaffrey transferred to Northern Colorado, and suddenly McNamara was the primary backup to newly anointed starter Joe Milton in 2020. That situation evolved quickly, as well, with Milton getting injured/playing poorly mid-season, thrusting McNamara into the limelight. McNamara played late against Wisconsin, took over early against Rutgers, started against Penn State, and . . . promptly got hurt.
Milton looked the part of a stud quarterback, but he didn't play like it with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Meanwhile, McNamara looks like an average dude but didn't turn over the ball. He commanded the offense better than Milton did in more extended playing time, and McNamara's decision-making was quicker. One of the main things I look for when evaluating quarterbacks is how quickly they make decisions at the line of scrimmage and progress through their reads. That was an area where Milton struggled, but McNamara does well in that phase, despite his lack of elite physical talents.
This off-season McNamara has had to fend off 5-star freshman J.J. McCarthy, who reportedly struggled a little bit in the spring but has turned it on during fall camp. The coaching staff has been steadfast that McNamara is the guy, even though McCarthy will play. Michigan also has former Texas Tech starter Alan Bowman and redshirt freshman Dan Villari on the roster. It will be interesting to see whether McNamara entrenches himself as the starter or if McCarthy pops up if McNamara struggles. It would be great if Michigan can put the brakes on the revolving door at quarterback and keep players at the position for a few years. I'm expecting McNamara to have an efficient 2021 season. Michigan should be able to run the ball to keep pressure off of him, and he has some talented targets at wideout and tight end.
Name: Daxton Hill Height: 6'0" Weight: 192 lbs. High school: Tulsa (OK) Booker T. Washington Position: Safety Class: Junior Jersey number: #30 Last year: I ranked Hill #3 and said he would be the starting free safety (LINK). He made 46 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 pass breakups. TTB Rating: 100
Daxton Hill was Michigan's highest rated recruit in the class of 2019, and much like other skill position players at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh, he has not lived up to the expectations. He certainly was not the only one, but he appeared to be disinterested in playing football during the 2020 season. There were times where he did not appear to be going full speed, either in running or tackling. There were even times where he seemed disinterested in getting lined up and in a good stance. When walk-on safety Hunter Reynolds got a chance to play, he seemed to outperform Hill if only because Reynolds looked like he actually cared.
Going into his third year, it's time for Hill to finally reach his potential. A new coaching staff reportedly plans to use him in a variety of roles in the secondary, playing anywhere from corner to nickel to strong safety to deep safety. I am a little concerned that his new position coach is Ron Bellamy (a former receiver and a high school coach through last season), but it's also fair to note that Bellamy played in the NFL. Guys who play in the NFL tend to know stuff.
Hill has very good speed, he has decent size, and he has playmaking ability. He can also lay the lumber if he wants. The big question is whether Jim Harbaugh, Mike Macdonald, and Bellamy can bring the best out of him. Michigan needs him to play at a high level if they want to win, since there are questions at cornerback and in the front seven. I think the new staff might be a positive jolt of energy for Hill, so he should take a step forward in 2021, perhaps resulting in an early departure for the NFL.