Monday, September 4, 2023

Michigan 30, East Carolina 3


Roman Wilson (image via Rivals)

Football is back! All is right in the world when it's football season. In another few days, the NFL season will be back and we can all enjoy Heaven for a few months. It has been a long off-season for me on an individual level, and this is also a chance to break away from the 2023 Season Countdown and get back into a groove with writing about various topics.

This was a boring matchup. I like seeing different opponents, but with East Carolina, there were no storylines. It's not a geographical matchup. When I looked through the roster and coaching staff, there was no crossover. East Carolina doesn't recruit in the state of Michigan. No transfers or ex-staffers from Michigan. There was no angle. The most interesting aspect going into the opener, aside from seeing who starts for Michigan, was . . .

. . . Peacock. The Peacock stream sucked. I signed up for Peacock on Friday because there's really no other reason to do so earlier. And I don't really care about the expense. I'll pay $5.99 to watch a Michigan game. But when I'm paying for it, I expect a good product. When I paid for cable, I expected ESPN and FS1 and BTN to give me a good product. Otherwise, I'll just turn off the volume and think through it myself. I don't need Mike Tirico and one of the Simms brothers to tell me what's happening on the game. Peacock actually complied - presumably on accident - when there was just no audio for several minutes. The fourth quarter feed got blurry, too, but maybe that had something to do with my local internet. But Peacock also cut out a play, there was no pregame show, the halftime show was boring, and oh yeah . . . the Simms kid isn't exactly top-notch. If I wanted crappy analysis, I would watch some of the ex-Buckeye talking heads like Josh Perry and Joey Galloway.

Hit the jump for more.

J.J. McCarthy was on fire. McCarthy looked awesome while going 26/30 for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has always had a strong arm, but he was throwing lasers. The third and final passing touchdown to Roman Wilson was an absolute dart (and a great catch by Wilson). I don't think there are tons of questions about McCarthy's ceiling, but he looked like an NFL quarterback out there. He reminds me a little bit of what everyone hoped former BYU and current New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson would be. East Carolina was able to get some pressure, but McCarthy felt it, kept his eyes downfield, and delivered the ball where it needed to be the vast majority of the time. He had a couple slip-ups, such as when he was over the line of scrimmage on the first TD pass to Wilson (the refs called it a TD on the field and review failed to overturn it) and when he held on to the ball a little too long on the sideline, resulting in him taking a nasty blow to the head (which turned out to be targeting and got an ECU player ejected).

The running game was disappointing. All anyone has talked about in the off-season is how good Michigan's offensive line will be, as well as the return of Blake Corum, and they kind of laid an egg. The difference between this game and some of the lackluster performances in recent years is that Michigan just opened it up and started throwing the ball all over the field. They ended up with 31 rushing attempts and 31 passing attempts. Not only were there numerous glitches up front (I thought Myles Hinton was the main culprit), but I thought Blake Corum (10 carries, 73 yards, 1 TD) looked indecisive and a half-step slower. I believe he was quicker in 2021 before putting on some additional weight, but the knee injury last season may have sapped some of his speed. But he also just seemed to be making some poor decisions and didn't really trust himself. Maybe he underestimated ECU a little bit and thought they would be slower/dumber than they were, but they actually flew around and tackled pretty well. Donovan Edwards (12 carries, 37 yards) didn't get a whole lot of room to run, either.

What about the #3 running back? Lots of people were wondering who would win the #3 running back job - thinking that might be the starter in 2024 - but that is unclear. The #3 guy on the depth chart is Kalel Mullings (3 carries, 14 yards), but C.J. Stokes (2 carries, 6 yards) and Ben Hall (2 carries, 2 yards) also got opportunities. Nobody really shined. Stokes had a nice carry followed by getting submarined in the backfield. Mullings had one good run and a couple other chances that got stuffed. It seemed like it was mostly on the offensive line, as well as ECU's defense getting penetration and selling out to stop the run.

Michigan has two good receivers and one good tight end. Roman Wilson (6 catches, 78 yards, 1 TD) and Cornelius Johnson (5 catches, 71 yards) looked outstanding for the most part. Wilson had a drop on the first pass attempt of the game, but otherwise, he was making nice catches and showing off outstanding speed. Johnson made a couple acrobatic and/or contested catches. Tight end Colston Loveland (4 catches, 57 yards) got open consistently. The passing game was rather easy with ECU focusing on stopping Michigan's run game, but a diving or leaping catch is a diving or leaping catch. Nobody else did much in the receiving game, but it was noteworthy that Donovan Edwards was used in the slot (4 catches, 33 yards) to catch some short throws to give him a chance to catch and run.

The defensive backs were brand new. It was almost funny when news came out about Michigan's pre-game injury report, because 3/4 of Michigan's projected defensive backfield was out. Will Johnson, Rod Moore, and Amorion Walker were replaced by Keshaun Harris, Josh Wallace, and Keon Sabb, respectively. With as well as Michigan usually recruits, they probably shouldn't be starting a walk-on and a UMass transfer at corner. But that's the situation, and those guys played well. They weren't tested a ton, but Wallace in particular impressed me with his coverage, and Harris is a speedster who flies up with some aggression. I guess that's the type of play you get on defense from a guy who has mostly been a special teamer in his career. Wallace had a very nice would-be interception that reminded me a little bit of Jourdan Lewis's pick against Northwestern several years ago, but unfortunately, ECU's receiver made contact with the ball when he had a foot out of bounds, so it was ruled an incomplete pass. Sabb also looked like he belongs after not playing much as a freshman in 2022. Altogether, they looked like a good crew of backups. Throw in Mike Sainristil, who notched the second interception of his career, and it was a good day.

I like these linebackers. Junior Colson, Michael Barrett, and Ernest Hausmann make up a pretty darn good trio of inside linebackers. Michigan's coaches said they felt like they had three starters there, and after watching them against ECU, I feel like they do, too. Hopefully they all stay healthy, but for the first time in a while, I feel like there's some actual depth there rather than relying on hopes and prayers. (Last year we hoped Michael Barrett could handle playing inside linebacker, and in previous years, we prayed there would be no injuries.) In fact, several linebackers had big days with Hausmann leading the team in tackles (6), followed by Barrett (5), Colson (5), Sabb (5), walk-on linebacker Christian Boivin (4), Jaydon Hood (4), and cornerback Jyaire Hill (4).

Special teams was an adventure. Transfer kicker James Turner had a tough day with a missed extra point and a missed field goal. The missed field goal from 52 yards wasn't a huge deal, but the missed extra point was concerning. He immediately slapped his head with both hands. While I'm sure that's frustrating, the job of placekicking is such a mental wringer that I hope he can maintain his confidence. He was a solid kicker at Louisville, but if he gets himself in a mental funk, that could be problematic. It seems like every year, there's at least one game that requires a crunch-time field goal to win or tie the game late. Last year it was Jake Moody's game-winning field goal against Illinois that saved the day. Tommy Doman averaged 44.5 yards per punt, which is good. Walk-on receiver Jake Thaw handled punts just fine, but he's not going to do anything special back there. Perhaps he was just holding down the fort for Tyler Morris, who was out due to injury, but I hope someone more athletic gets a chance to return punts. Freshman Karmello English had 1 return for 8 yards late in the game and he has a little more juice.

How much did the absence of two coaches affect the game? Jim Harbaugh (replaced by Jesse Minter) and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore (replaced by Kirk Campbell) were absent from the game due to Michigan's self-imposed suspensions, and it's hard to say how much that affected the team. The offense started off the second drive with the "Train" formation, a tribute to the coach who . . . cheated and got himself suspended. I thought that was a little tone-deaf, but at least it's clear the players care for Harbaugh. (Note: As much as Michigan fans want to say it was about a cheeseburger, Harbaugh was clearly complicit in allowing former "analyst" Ryan Osborn coach the edge players in 2021, so it's not like Harbaugh is an innocent bystander in that whole kerfuffle.) I thought Michigan was very vanilla with the play calling, especially in the run game. We've lodged the same complaints in past years after easy games, so I'm sure things will get more varied when necessary.

It's going to be a fun season. Michigan has dudes all over the place. I assume the run game will get worked out, and the passing game was hitting on all cylinders. Defensively, Michigan looked very good, even without a few guys in the secondary. Special teams are a question mark other than Tommy Doman as the kickoff and punt guy. Overall, it's a very good team with lots of skill. Even if they stumble once or twice along the way, there's some juice surrounding Michigan football. 


  1. no mention of our Tackles? I thought Graham played well, Jenkins fought of doubles, and KENNETH GRANT may end up best of the bunch 💪🏽

    If Morris misses more time, I'd like to see more of English. Yeah he's a TrFR, but far more wiggle than Thae, who frustrated me on his first attempt

    Barrett was good, Colson was EVERYWHERE, but Hauserman looked like a DOG out there!

    *that JLew pick was Wisconsin, 2016 ... 4Q, 4th Down

  2. Keshaun Harris ... Whodathunkit?

    Both Burroughs and Hill looked like they can play. It looked like Burroughs was the first bench guy in at corner, but then slid over to nickel with Hill coming in. Not completely sure about that.

    At this instant, I think the tackles are going to be Barnhart and Henderson. Hinton is just enormous, it's easy to see how he can really move people when he gets attached, but he missed some reads so egregiously that even I could see it ... I think.

    Gentry in front of Anderson at Right Guard.

    Anxious to read the UFRs this week.


    1. Harris is an athlete. I've been impressed by him. Maybe I should have ranked him above #53.

      Agree on Jyaire Hill. He looks aggressive at corner, but thin. He's going to be a guy in a year or two.

      We'll see about Barnhart and Henderson. Both have been repping mostly on the left side. Barnhart has played both sides before, but Henderson has always been on the left (left guard and left tackle), so I probably wouldn't mess with putting him on the right. I agree that Hinton missed some things, so I'm curious to see if they just insert Jones at RT and call it a day with Henderson/Barnhart continuing to battle on the left side.

      It's definitely an interesting problem to have.

    2. Keep forgetting Borrough's Mc. Not to mention his ows.

    3. Harris is also a 5th year senior who has been in the program for a while. Obviously it's OK if he's starting against ECU but if he's out there against OSU?

      Even if he's just a guy in the dime package (6th DB) or playing 8-12 rotations snaps to spell the 2 starters at outside CB. That's a weakness OSU is very likely to try to exploit one way or another. Same goes for Quintin Johnson, as we saw in the fiesta bowl.

      Right now, if everyone is healthy, the dime package is:
      Paige, Moore, Wallace, Johnson, Sainristil, Sabb.

      That's a strong group if Sabb is as good as he looked Saturday. Especially given the versatility of Moore. But if any of them are missing the question of next man up remains - especially if Wallace or Johnson are the ones who are out.

      Unfortunately with the way the season schedule plays out we won't see a high end passing offense until November; and then we get PSU, Maryland, and OSU 3 games in a row. Plus Hudson Card's Boilermakers after the bye. So the good news is we we have time until November to figure it out. But it would be nice if September and October gave our pass defense a test scarier than...Gavin Wimsatt's Scarlet Knights?.

      There's always practice!

    4. I do appreciate that Q Johnson and K Harris have solid athleticism/speed. But they're 5th year guys who haven't broken through for meaningful roles. They have seemed to be playing by default when they have played. Veterans who know what they are supposed to do can be superior to mistake-prone youngins. But ultimately they feel like placeholders until younger more talented players emerge.

      My eyes are on Waller and Hill over the next few weeks. Berry as well, since he's likely a starter next year even if he's not a critical piece this year.

      Unfortunately I see McBurrows in the former group at this point of his career. Won't rule him out entirely yet because there's been positive buzz about him for a while and he missed a lot of time with injuries, but he should be surging past some guys not stuck behind walk-ons and career backups in year 5.

    5. The 2023 secondary in 3 groups:

      6 "Starters": Paige, Moore, Sainristil, W. Johnson, Wallace, Sabb
      5 Depth Veterans: Q.Johnson, Kolesar, Harris, Green, McBurrows
      4 Emerging Youngins: Walker, Hill, Waller, Berry

      We need a 7th "starter" for rotation on meaningful downs, ideally at outside corner. I really hope that by OSU that's coming from the the youngsters and not the vets. Those 4 (Walker, Hill, Waller, Berry) are ones I will be watching for closely over the next several weeks.

      I would put the DB7 battle above the RB3 for importance, though it will get far less attention and interest. At both spots the primary role is keeping the starters fresh, but you'll probably be called on for some limited snaps in meaningful games if you gain trust. More importantly, you're an injury away from being really thrown into the fire.

      There are a handful of other guys I didn't list: Jones, Hillman, Calhoun, Pollard. They are underclassmen who don't seem to be a factor in this year's depth chart. That's not a terrible thing for them. They aren't on a starting track at this moment, but time is on their side. The freshman have more than the sophomores of course. But even the sophs, if they are doing work on special teams or getting scout team honors in 2023 that will be a good sign for their futures.

  3. East Carolina were absolutely not going to ground to dust in Michigan Stadium. It looked to me like that was their only goal on defense. I think their defense left the stadium feeling good about what they did out there Saturday. I know I would have. Score be damned.


  4. Thanks Thunder. I was looking forward to reading your take.

    Any one game can be a high variance event and the opposition was outmatched (especially our DL vs their OL) and injuries were a factor and and and ...BUT I do think we learned some stuff about our personnel after 8 months of speculating, projecting, and hoping for practice breadcrumbs from insiders.

    Here are my takes, focused on what it might mean for PSU/OSU and beyond.


    Sabb - looked pretty capable out there and earned the highest PFF grade in the secondary. Clearly ahead of Johnson and Berry and looks to be locked in as the 3rd safety.

    Bredeson - he started and looked a bit bigger and graded well by PFF. TE1 is obviously Loveland but Bredeson maybe the lead blocking TE stepping in for Schoonmacher.

    Jones - unless Jones loses the RT battle and plays most of his snaps as a blocking TE/6th OL. I believe he had 15 of those yesterday, in addition to 9 at tackle. Between Hinton's struggles and the versatility Jones showed, he looks in good position.

    Josh Beetham - I had to google to learn more about the young man who might be TE4. That would mean a notable role in a Harbaugh offense. It's probably Hibner, but Beetham did get some scout team honors last year.

    LB rotation - not a surprise, but looked like a big strength even with Rolder out. (red-shirt coming?)

    F.Moore - injuries maybe a factor but this kid is clearly pushing his way into the WR rotation which is probably good news for us

    Campbell - He wasn't afraid to call passes and while I was a skeptic about Edwards playing in the slot but he was definitely there and doesn't look out of place at all (that parts not a surprise). Good news!

    Waller - Sounds like he's in the battle at CB. Something to keep an eye on as the freshman get their sea legs.


    Barner - it's just one game but he played pretty poorly. He got a few targets I think but TE is officially a concern IMO. We may see more 6OL and 3WR formations as a result.

    McBurrows - I know he's supposed to be the backup nickel but the fact that Harris is starting at CB and he isn't tells me McBurrow's not going to be one of our 7 best DBs. That's disappointing for the junior to not even be in the conversation outside.

    Q Johnson - The 5th year senior provides some functional depth and chips in on special teams but if he's out there covering WR against PSU/OSU we're in trouble. With Sabb's emergence and Berry looking like he's on the verge of passing Johnson, it's not likely we see him beyond special teams.

    EDGEs - Nothing shocking but the group was pretty quiet against a weak OL. Incrementing expectations for a breakout down, but only very slightly.

    CJ Stokes - The pile at RB3 is one that you really want to see a breakout candidate emerge from. Mullings is just a guy, Hall is a freshman, and Stokes is failing to emerge ahead of them. I was nervous after Mullings and Gash passed him late in last season, but you can maybe excuse that away with him being a freshman. But now he's a sophomore and still hanging back - I think he might be on the Dunlap track.

    RB Vision - LOL. Just kidding but whenever the blocking struggles (relative to expectation) you can count on people questioning the RBs. ECU loaded up against the run and our OL/TEs had a mediocre day by the lofty standards set for them. I have zero worries about our RBs.

    1. I'm happy to have football back and very much enjoyed the show. The offense and defense both played very well. But between Turner's struggles, a meh game by the EDGEs, and Harris starting at CB I feel the tiniest bit more concerned about beating OSU and PSU than I did Friday.

      Other than Sabb popping, I think the handful of minor doubts we have about this roster where affirmed as uncertainties.

    2. I started to hear some positive things about Beetham during fall camp. He supposedly took quite a big jump this off-season.

      Supposedly the edge guys were coached this week to keep everything hemmed in since Garcia is a bit of a threat as a runner. I don't think they were trying to get upfield quite as much as Michigan's defensive ends sometimes do. But yes, it's still a question mark since we didn't actually see them do much.

      I'm not really sure where your conclusion about Stokes comes from. He had 2 carries. One went for like 8 yards on which he broke a tackle or two. On the other, he was met immediately by one or two guys on his legs in the backfield.

    3. What got me concerned about PennSt was Drew Allar. Read he was inacurrate & immobile, but dude was throwing darts Saturday night. Moved well in the pocket too. Not a dual threat, but definitely capable of sliding up the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield

    4. Thunder, good point about edges. I'm not too worried. Was just hoping to see more highlight plays.

      With Stokes it's about his spot in the pecking order. Not what he did on the 2 carries . I know you say guys like higdin need time to develop and some of that I buy, pass pro etc. But as a runner if Stokes is still no better than Mullings, I'm concerned. It would be different if he was behind a bunch of studs but it's just 2 and then wide open for now.

    5. Some people seem to want to dismiss some elements of OSU and PSU, be it coaching or personnel. but in my eyes they are both still top 5 to 8 teams and those will be tossup games or 60/40 right now, even with us looking strongest.

      Allar looked good I agree

    6. OSU has not looked this bad since....2011. Throw that year out and maybe the Belasari years? Still early and only one game, but they are not going to fix the that OL IMO. The QB looks average and that is hard when you have those receivers. They can't run block. Can't pass block.

    7. Yeah I think the OL is probably the most legit question they have on offense. If the OL is a (relative) weak spot they'll be susceptible. And if it's OT specifically, we just need the edges who can make them pay. But OL can also evolve and gel as the season goes so don't bury them yet.

      The QB should be fine - they have earned the benefit of the doubt on development there - and the skill positions are loaded. So by November I have little doubt that they'll be a dangerous offense. I'll believe OSU is not a top 5 offense when I see it for more than a game or two.

      There's also the possibility that Indiana's D is better than we expect. Tom Allen has surprised with limited talent before.

      It's very possibly relevant that OSU was breaking in a new QB against conference opponent while most teams were eating cupcakes. If they still struggle next week though...

  5. Thunder: You remarked that it was a long off-season for you. Here's hoping that the next one is shorter and smoother. I appreciate these write-ups, the countdown, etc. Great work as always!

  6. Also, Drake Nugent is 6'2 as much as Jabrill Peppers was

    1. Oddly, there were a lot of height changes in 2023. A lot of Michigan players and recruits measured in 1" shorter than they did in 2022...

      ...but Nugent was listed at 6'1" at Stanford and is listed at 6'2" at Michigan. So I don't know if Michigan changed how they measured heights (maybe barefoot instead of wearing shoes?), but something happened. The guy from Stanford grew and it seemed like 1/3 of the Michigan guys got an inch shorter.

  7. Where is that always negative guy that trashed JJ last year? That was probably the best passing show from a UM QB that I have ever seen. Henne was, for some reason, never laser accurate as you would expect and his receivers were first rounders catching everything in same zipcode. I can't remember Henson being that accurate but his movement, accuracy, and overall athletic ability reminded me of Henson. Avoiding with ease the rush, firing on the run down field on the button. Finding the guy that is open. Spreading the ball around. Big enough to fling off any CB that gets close enough to try to tackle him. Great stuff.

    1. I think that guy transferred to the Iowa fanbase.

      JJ is really good - best QB since Denard and best passer since Henne - at least. But remember that he was also dominant in last year's non-conference schedule. The window's get tighter against Iowa and Illinois caliber defenses.

  8. JJ will not get tested until the MSU game, and that is only because its a rivalry and a road game. If he goes 30/35 for 400 in that one we'll still have a wait and see. PSU at this point looks like the hardest test.
    Injuries is the only thing I see derailing JJ.
    I saw an OSU team in a quasi rebuild mode IMO. Indiana is a complete tomato can and OSU was sputtering to move the ball. That has not happened since the clinton administration.

  9. Before the season started, we were worried mainly abt DE and CB. After watching the first game, perhaps our OL and TE are also not good enough if we want to be Nat Champ. For OL, I am hoping it is cohesion issues which can be resolved with more practices. For TE, I do not think we have someone on the roster who can catch and block. I believe All would have started if he did not transfer to Iowa.

    1. I would continue to worry about CB since ECU is not exactly OSU. Wallace had a good debut but he's not done getting tested and while he's probably locking into CB2 role the competition for CB3 remains open. We still had a walk-on starting last game.

      I raised the concern about TE in the offseason. Attrition was very high. But a lot of that depends on how you feel about using a 6th OL. Given our OL depth I think it maybe somewhere between fine and really good. The key is if they are ever going to use the 6th OL as a pass threat or if it's going to be a tell that encourages opposing defenses to tee off on the run game. I hope they are in the lab testing out which OL has the best hands. At the very least it can be a goalline threat.

      I would not write off Loveland or Barner's ability as blockers entirely - they can get better. But it may be a season-long hinderance on the run game that we probably didn't fully consider.

      I am not worried about the OL at all. They'll sort it out. They also had a decent day overall, it just wasn't up to the Moore award standard. It's a blip that's easily explained by shuffling of personal during the "preaseason". Competition is great but it's not without some downsides, which we've long acknowledged at QB but not necessarily other positions.

    2. And let's remember that even early last year, there were some blips and mistakes early on. The OL mistakes in game 1 nearly got Cade killed and T Jones had some horrible pass pro whiffs. It's nice to win awards but more important that we identify the best 5 OL (or really the best 3 after the guards) and then get them working together effectively by game 4 or 5.