Friday, September 1, 2023

Preview: Michigan vs. East Carolina


(image via ECU Athletics)

Michigan's running game has been talked about so much that it feels kind of insulting to bring up again. But I will, anyway. Michigan returns three-fifths of the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line in left guard Trevor Keegan, right guard Zak Zinter, and offensive tackle . . . someone. One or both of Trente Jones and Karsen Barnhart should start. Running back Blake Corum surprised most people when he chose a return to Michigan over playing in the NFL, so he brings back his 1,463 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Backup running back Donovan Edwards had 991 yards on the ground. Michigan was #5 in rushing with 238.9 yards/game and scored the second-most rushing touchdowns (41), behind only Georgia (44). Last year's East Carolina unit finished #19 in the country in rushing defense (112.5 yards allowed/game), and they held Tulane star running back Tyjae Spears to 16 carries for 53 yards (Spears finished with 1,581 rushing yards on the season). The Pirates have a couple 300-ish pound nose tackles, but their 3-techniques are around 270, which has to have Zak Zinter champing at the bit. The leading tackler last year was 6'2", 187 lb. safety Julius Wood (88 stops), and the top guy in the front seven was 6'2", 237 lb. outside linebacker Jeremy Lewis (60 tackles). The two starting inside linebackers are totally unproven in junior Teylor Jackson (32 career tackles) and South Carolina State transfer B.J. Davis, who are 219 and 227 pounds, respectively. This should be a good day on the ground for the Wolverines.
Advantage: Michigan

Hit the jump for more.

The bigger question mark for Michigan's offense is the passing game, which finished at #83 in yardage last year, even if it was #23 in passing efficiency. J.J. McCarthy completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, but he topped 60% completions just once in his final six games. The story goes that his surgically repaired shoulder didn't feel great early in the year, but he was completing 70% of his passes when it hurt . . . and then when it felt better, the accuracy dropped off but he started hitting some deep balls. I don't know how much to buy into that . . . Anyway, Michigan lost top receiver Ronnie Bell and will be relying on receivers Cornelius Johnson (32 catches, 499 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Roman Wilson (25/376/4), along with tight end Colston Loveland (16/235/2). East Carolina finished #130 out of 131 teams last season in pass defense (292.8 yards allowed/game), allowed 8.7 yards per attempt (tied for #126), and ranked #123 in passing efficiency defense. Meanwhile, they made 11 interceptions, but the only returnee who notched any is Julius Wood, who had 2 (1 of which he returned for a TD against Memphis). Jeremy Lewis and his team-leading 4.5 sacks return, along with defensive tackle Elijah Morris (6'1", 269) and defensive end Chad Stephens (6'1", 261), both of whom had 2.5 sacks. Overall, this is a small defensive front with some quickness, and there are a lot of new faces in the defensive backfield.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan was #7 in rush defense last year (97.9 yards allowed/game) and they allowed just 3.26 yards per carry, which was #10 nationally. A couple stout defensive linemen in Mike Morris and Mazi Smith left for the NFL, but they're being replaced by good players in Braiden McGregor and 339-pound Kenneth Grant, respectively. Linebacker Junior Colson led the team with 101 tackles, and he'll probably do so again in 2023. There are some who think defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, Jr. will be a 1st round pick now that he's up twenty pounds to 305, and he was already one of the best run-stoppers in the country. East Carolina was #54 in rushing yards in 2022 (170.6 yards/game), but they were led by running back Keaton Mitchell, who made the Baltimore Ravens' 53-man roster this year. Junior running back Rahjai Harris (5'11", 211) returns with his 67 carries for 238 yards and 5 touchdowns from last year, along with sophomore Marlon Gunn, Jr. (5'11", 210) and his 68 carries for 344 yards. The offensive line is good-sized (the only sub-300-pounder is USF transfer Dustyn Hall at 6'4" and 294 lbs.), but the tackles are new and a concern for ECU.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan finished at #20 in pass defense (194.2 yards allowed/game) and notched more interceptions (14) than touchdowns allowed (11), finishing with the #5 passing efficiency defense in the country. They lost two starting corners in D.J. Turner II and Gemon Green, but then-freshman Will Johnson had taken Green's job by the end of last season. The 6'2", 202 lb. Johnson should be all-conference this year after making 3 interceptions in just five starts last season. Michigan might have the best safety duo in the conference with Rod Moore (71 tackles, 4 interceptions) and Makari Paige (41 tackles, 1 interception), but . . . all three of the aforementioned players might miss the game due to injury. Michigan will probably be starting UMass transfer Josh Wallace and nickel corner Mike Sainristil at the corner positions. The top returning sack guy is McGregor, who had 2.5 takedowns in 2022, and Coastal Carolina transfer Josaiah Stewart (3.5 sacks) also brings some pass rush juice. Meanwhile, East Carolina will start 6'5", 249 lb. Mason Garcia, who was the #377 overall recruit in 2020 but ended up at ECU because of some academic issues. He has only thrown 15 career passes with 1 touchdown and 1 interception to his name. Just two of ECU's top six receivers from last year return, with wideout Jaylen Johnson (6'2", 192) having caught 26 passes for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns, and tight end Shane Calhoun (6'3", 242) notching 25 grabs for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michigan should be able to put ECU's new tackles to the test, and as long as the defensive tackles and inside linebackers can keep tabs on Garcia, they should be able to get after the quarterback. The Wolverines will have some new faces in the secondary, so the more pressure they can put on Garcia quickly, the better.
Advantage: Michigan


  • No players on ECU's roster were recruited by Michigan out of high school
  • Michigan's only player from North Carolina is walk-on Liam Groulx
  • East Carolina has no players on its roster from the state of Michigan


  • Michigan and ECU have never played
  • ECU joined Divison I-A (now known as FBS) in 1978


  • Michigan 48, East Carolina 17


  1. High marks for “champing”; not chomping. A pet peeve.


  2. 1Q "let's see less of this guy:" Max Bredeson. Almost like they're trying to make fetch happen, he's playing the Ben Mason role, but without making the block needed

    1. and just like that, two solid blocks to open the 2Q 🤷🏽‍♂️

  3. It was the JJ show, by far and away the best player on the field

    1. Kenneth Grant truly is a gift from the football Gods 💪🏽

  4. Question marks- End rush.

  5. Replies
    1. Litrally

      Started ea Quarter with run plays ... ran often too

      Hopefully Jimmy keeps to his preseason goal and takes what defenses give them, resulting in a close to 5o-5o split

    2. Agree on taking what defense gives you. Will be interesting if with Moore back next week if we see the same thing (assuming UNLV takes the same approach and stacks against the run).

      If we are anywhere close to 50-50 after these non-competitive non-conference games we will definitely be close on the season, since we always end up 50-50 in the ones that count.

  6. Lets see more of this guy:
    McCarthy Teams will stack the box and will not allow themselves to get Paved like last year. Shocked it took until Illinois in 2022. Fine. Free JJ. You throw them out of that stacked box and if it takes 50 throws, throw it 55 times just so they get it.
    Lets see less of this guy:
    Corum. See above. Until they drop back to defend the pass.

    1. Last two years has sometimes just been a stubborn test of wills. "We don't let ourselves get paved!" decreed the opposing DC. Our offensive braintrust have replied "We'll just have to see about that. This is who we are. Just try and stop us."

      Against overmatched opponents our guys have been right, but there's been a lot of games where we're stuck in competitive head-butting through half-time with lesser teams hoping to get some lucky breaks. There was Illinois last year but also badly overmatched Indiana blitzing both corners. Then there were the early 2021 Cade teams that refused to throw at all. The mentality only changed when Michigan thought it was in for a real fight, or the 2nd half scoreboard told them indisputably that this was the case.

      ECU, I hope, is a sign that Michigan is not going to keep bashing it's head against the wall. Even if it has a skull made of steel and will eventually break through, there's a better way to do things. Last year's OSU and TCU games so very clearly showed that the offense is better off when it's not one dimensional. Passing will open up the run game, just as the run game opens up the pass.

      Hopefully they are more open to taking what the defense gives us this year and true to the vision of a more balanced attack. Of course you still base everything off the dominant run game, but you don't need to prove that every game. With 4 starters back, plus Nugent, Hinton, and Henderson Michigan can be secure in it's run game identity without putting up a 300 yard day on the ground.

      Those 2 failed run early run often series yesterday, on opposite sides of the goalline, were mildly concerning I suppose. Mostly they feel more like a one-off than a real problem. Perhaps something to do with all the shuffling of players during the early season competition at OT and OC. The early season would probably be cleaner if they just stuck with Barnhart and Jones at tackle, but if it gets us to a better place by November it will be worthwhile to let these battles play out into the games that count.

      For this team, these games barely do. They are something like preseason NFL games - a place to test out your depth and work out some kinks. Of course they can't go out and actually LOSE but there's no serious threat of that unless we are down to 3rd string.

    2. When Max Bredeson got a target & catch before AJ Barber & Darius Clemons, I thought "that's so Harbaugh" ... but when we were trying to force Donovan Edwards through a brick wall, I thought "where is that bootleg now?!"

    3. Blocking TE. I continue to be surprised that no one seems curious let alone concerned about replacing Schoonmacher-Honigford-All's snaps spent blocking (i.e., the vast majoirty of them).

      Barner and Loveland are pass-first guys so Bredeson got the start alongside a 6-man OL. I heard talk he was a fullback now but he played in-line TE yesterday too. I thought he was underrated in the TTB countdown but it's more general to the preseason conversation across platforms.

      I think there's an assumption that TE blocking is sort of a given and interchangeable (which is similar to what I think about RB running). Maybe the differences between guys isn't enough to MATTER here but it's interesting to me that it's more or less ignored. Regardless, we don't have another guy like Honigford (Trente Jones is probably closest) and if Bredeson gets hurt we don't have another guy like him either.