Sunday, November 7, 2021

Michigan 29, Indiana 7


Luke Schoonmaker (image via USA Today)

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Eat your vitamins. My biggest takeaway from this game is that Michigan needs to get healthy. Going into the game, Michigan was missing RB Donovan Edwards and TE Erick All. And here are the players who got injured during the game: QB Cade McNamara (lower body), RB Blake Corum (lower leg), CB Gemon Green (shoulder), WR Andrel Anthony (unknown). Luckily, the Wolverines had a big enough advantage in this game that it ended up not affecting the outcome, but the toughest stretch of the schedule is coming up, with Penn State next week and Ohio State in three weeks.

Hit the jump for more.

Hassan Haskins carried the load. Praise be to Hassan Haskins, who had a great game. He tied a career high for rushing attempts (27) and set a career high for rushing yards (168). He repeatedly gained yards after contact, and his 62-yard run (the second longest of his career) was a thing of beauty, both for him and for the offensive line. With Edwards missing the game and Corum getting hurt after one carry, the Wolverines were down to walk-on Leon Franklin and freshman fifth-stringer Tavierre Dunlap to relieve Haskins. Hopefully Corum and Edwards can return soon, but as a runner, Franklin should not be on the field in key situations. (Side note: As soon as Haskins broke through the line on his 62-yarder, I said aloud, "He's gonna get caught," which he did. So I found it humorous when at halftime, Brady Quinn said something about Haskins's "home run speed." Haskins is a very good running back, but he only has warning track power.)

Position switch(es) coming? Considering the running back situation, I have a couple suggestions for players who might be able to fill a role at running back:

  • LB Michael Barrett: Barrett has not played a ton at linebacker this season. Coincidentally, he played more against Indiana than at any other time this year. Jim Harbaugh said after the game that the team was trying to make fewer substitutions, so putting a S/LB hybrid out there prevented them from having to sub in and out so much. Barrett was a QB in high school and played some on offense, mostly at slot receiver, when he first arrived in Ann Arbor. At 6'0" and 227 lbs., he's the right size for the position.
  • QB Dan Villari: Villari was compared in the off-season to the New Orleans Saints' Taysom Hill, a do-everything QB who has played at WR, TE, FB, and RB, too. At 6'4" and 235 lbs., he's not a ready-made running back body type, but he has been used exclusively as a runner so far in his limited opportunities during blowouts (7 carries for 21 yards). As a QB he should have enough knowledge of the playbook to make a pretty seamless transition, even if his skill set does not lean toward greatness.

Josh Gattis with another questionable game. Gattis comes out with some good game plans against the good teams on his schedule, such as when he opened up the passing game for McNamara to throw for 383 yards against Michigan State. It seems like he saves up his brain power for big games, though, and the Indiana game plan saw the Hoosiers stopping Michigan's inside run pretty well. They consistently "guessed" right, putting two guys coming off the edge and taking advantage of the fact that McNamara won't keep the ball on zone "reads." They also had some effective stunts up front that Michigan's offensive line completely failed to identify, getting to the QB with more regularity than any other team this season. The best thing Michigan did was break out the outside zone play - something I've been wanting to see for several weeks - which turned into Haskins's 62-yarder. It also opened up the naked bootleg that turned into Luke Schoonmaker's first touchdown catch.

There's a reason Cade McNamara is starting. I hope everyone saw what I saw, and that is that J.J. McCarthy is not a starting-caliber quarterback right now. Even late in the game, when Indiana had kind of succumbed to not being able to win the game, they were still able to rattle McCarthy. McCarthy was 5/10 for 55 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception in mop-up duty, while also taking 2 sacks and throwing some dangerous incompletions. Meanwhile, McNamara was 10/18 for 168 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, with 1 sack (and, to be fair, one dangerous incompletion). I do not like playing freshmen at almost any position, and that includes at quarterback. McCarthy is at least one season away from being a capable starter.

The problem with running quarterbacks. I thought Indiana came into the game with a decent game plan: run the QB (which worked okay for Rutgers and Nebraska) and get the ball out quickly to the edges. That worked for a little bit. But by the end of the game, Donaven McCulley (10/24, 88 yards; 14 carries for 37 yards) seemed skittish. He was making bad decisions, the offensive line was making mistakes, and McCulley was just trying to get rid of the ball. Indiana wasn't able to sustain much, which put McCulley in a bind. Kudos to offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan (a former Michigan QB) for trying to make chicken salad out of chicken s*** with a backup QB, backup running backs, etc. But there's only so much you can do with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo coming off the edges.

What a great pass rush combo. Michigan has two defensive ends (okay, outside linebackers) who are in the top 17 nationally in sacks. David Ojabo has 8 - along with 4 forced fumbles - and Aidan Hutchinson has 7. Quarterbacks know they can't sit in the pocket for long, so they have to resort to fancy play action, quick passes to the edge, and the hope of a running game. Indiana had some decent chunk runs, but their running backs aren't capable of hitting home runs. They needed to be able to throw the ball to win, and a team like Indiana just doesn't have the talent to do that.


  1. Nice write-up. Thanks!

  2. Agree completely - Michigan needs to get healthy ASAP. Thanx to Purdue, the Wolverines actually have a very realistic & viable shot at pulling out the Big Ten East title.
    Can MSU, now with 1 loss, defeat PSU & OSU? Ummm I don't think they can so that will give MSU at least 2 losses.
    Can OSU get by PSU? OSU no longer looks like an NFL minor league team and their road wins against decent teams have been close & Oregon beat them in the shoe.
    PSU, with 3 losses now has become Michigan's best friend if they can beat MSU and maybe OSU too.
    Michigan needs to win out but IF MSU suffers another loss - very possible and OSU gets beat, Michigan has a ticket to Indy.........
    Go Blue..........INTJohn

    1. OSU already beat Penn State back on October 30 by a score of 33-24. Remaining on OSU's schedule: Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan.

    2. This is not really worth worrying about IMO until/if UM beats PSU. That's just for starters of things that need to happen.

      We'll know the stakes when we play OSU but frankly they won't matter all that much one way or another -- We'll be happy if we beat OSU and sad if we don't. The rest is pretty trivial right now.

  3. Thanx for that update. I've been juggling so many teams, games & skejules can't remember it all and now its mbb, too.

    I plead Ole Man Dementia.............INTJohn

  4. Very good win for our program and a good time to take a step back and appreciate that 8-1 with a comfortable win over Indiana with several key players out is such great progress from last year. This season is a success already. The coaching staff turnover seems to be working. Next season looks very promising. etc.

    We could easily be in Indiana's shoes. Not as bad as it looks - consider how many teams would get more than a couple wins through the gauntlet of OSU, PSU, UM, MSU, Iowa, and Cincinnati. Especially with a ton of injuries. A brighter day is ahead for Indiana.

    1. O thoughts. Cade just seems to be getting better and better every week. I probably didn't give him enough credit last week but that was a week pass D from MSU. Regardless he is making good tough throws now - stuff he wasn't even asked to try earlier in the year.

      I also like how they keep building up JJ as well. This was a great game to do that and bounce back from the MSU game with some positive plays. Ditto for Johnson.

      I disagree with the RB take here, as usual. Down 2 of our top 3 and no problem. We don't need to do a thing at RB.

      Our offense looks to be really rounding into form with a strong run game and quality pass game now. Fix the short-yardage stuff and we're in business.

      Hopefully guys are healthy for a tough game in Happy Valley next week. Glad to see that's a noon start and not a night game.

    2. D thoughts. Credit to Thunder for calling for more Upshaw last week. He played his best game IMO.

      Credit to McDonald from learning from the MSU debacle last week. 5-1 wasn't working and we got a healthy dose of Barrett. I never understood how the heavy package was going to work against OSU nor how we could afford to drop our best coverage LB out of the rotation.

      To move that kind of player away from D so that he can be a 5th string RB is just wild to me.

      Turner continues to look good. Moore and Moten continue to get valuable experience. We're certainly going to miss Hawkins, Hill, Hutchinson, and Ojabo next year (assuming he is gone too after this season's performance) but there should still be a lot of returning talent and experience on the 2022 defense.

      Tough to take a lot away from an Indiana team struggling badly on offense but we did better against them than some our peers did.

    3. Seems like folks are hopeful that none of the injuries are too bad. Possible exception is Green which would be a hit for sure. Seems like Green might be the most talented one-on-one man cover corner we have. This could be an issue as soon as PSU.

  5. I completely disagree with the QB take. This team will surely lose to OSU and might lose to PSU with McNamara at QB. He's already led them to a loss at MSU and nearly losses against Nebraska and Rutgers (defense saving both of those games). They are limited in the offense that they can run with McNamara. If they're going to run a vanilla offense that allows defenses to take away the run game, I'd rather have the more talented McCarthy in there getting better and building toward next year.

    And your comparison of QB play was more than a little disingenuous. Cade was 4 of 11 for 89 yards in the first half and looked dreadful. He hit a couple of plays in the 2nd half, after Haskins had gashed them and Gattis took advantage of them cheating up to stop the run. Even on the long CJ throw, he had to come back to the ball and got tackled. What is obvious is that JJ is a better passer, more mobile and a better runner. He fits this offense better and should have been starting since the Northwestern game.

    1. So when McCarthy - the superior runner - came in the game, Indiana stopped respecting the run? That's an interesting theory.