Character builder: Tough road win provides lesson Michigan needs moving forward
Different types of wins serve as growth moments. The blowouts at home build confidence and hype the fanbase, but the tough grinds on the road can really define the true character of a team. On Saturday, Michigan learned as much with a 27-14 win over Iowa at Kinnick.
The Wolverines, this time around, avoided the top-5 curse vs. the Hawkeyes: “Where top-5 teams go to die,” UM coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week.
For a quick second, Michigan appeared to be on the verge of running past Iowa from the onset of the afternoon. Ronnie Bell’s 16-yard TD on a reverse quieted the crowd at Kinnick. Iowa’s defense settled down and Michigan found out that it wasn’t going to be able to flash by the Hawkeyes — it was going to be a gritty afternoon, just as initially anticipated.
The Wolverines led 20-0 until the fourth quarter, then Iowa found some energy and pressured for the final 15 minutes, scoring a 2-yard rushing TD and putting together what should have been an 87-yard scoring drive (but turned over on downs late in the fourth). The Hawkeyes added a TD in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
Despite allowing a late surge by Iowa, Michigan’s defense held strong and came up with 4 sacks (2 by Mike Morris) and 6 tackles for loss. Additionally, UM’s offense didn’t commit a turnover and was perfect in the red zone (3-3).
Saturday was a lesson learned for sophomore QB JJ McCarthy, who had some fantastic moments but also a few mistakes. A couple more overthrows, a few instances of holding onto the ball for too long — things that can be cleaned up over time. However, he followed the win over Maryland with a solid road start — his first — and completed 18-of-24 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.
Blake Corum, in typical fashion, dominated Michigan’s run game. For the second straight week, he put the offense on his back and shouldered a major workload: 16 carries for 79 yards in the first half alone, and 29 carries for 113 yards and a 20-yard touchdown by the end.
One week ago, he had a career-high 30 carries for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’ll be effective and dangerous on a weekly basis, but he won’t have to necessarily be a 1-man show because of his supporting cast.
Donovan Edwards, returning from an ankle injury, looked ready to contribute with his signature style. Edwards can do so many things, and it’s almost always done with some visual trickery — unexpected and spontaneous. During the first half, he had 4 carries for 29 yards, and 2 big gains made up the bulk of the yardage: 10- and 12-yard bursts for first downs.
Not only does Edwards give run support, but he’s also a dangerous combo — as he’s shown since 2021 — and can also put up production as a receiver. His 12-yard TD in the third quarter was the perfect example of his ability to let the play come to him. His patience during McCarthy’s scramble should be recognized, just like McCarthy’s vision/patience.
JJ McCarthy is a difference-maker. He scrambled to escape pressure, then hit Donovan Edwards for a Michigan TD.
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) October 1, 2022
They are a duo that will certainly do damage this fall.
Michigan busted out a triple-option toss and looks like it has a lot more creative wrinkles within its run plan. Corum, Edwards, reverses and option-tosses to Bell — UM’s creativity in the run game was evident vs. the Hawkeyes, who entered Saturday with the No. 6-ranked total defense in the country.
Early in the third quarter, tight end Luke Schoonmaker’s 18-yard reception up the right side helped set up another first down — in the form of a triple-option toss by McCarthy to Bell — and establish a quicker pace en route to another touchdown (McCarthy scrambled then hit Edwards for a 12-yard TD connection).
With Erick All out for an undisclosed amount of time with an undisclosed injury, Schoonmaker will have to become a bigger part of the Wolverines’ offense. Having a go-to tight end provides great balance and adds more options to play-calling/game pace. Schoonmaker finished by catching 4 of 5 intended passes for 45 yards, all the while racking up 22 yards after contact.
Michigan can win with flash, either led by McCarthy or Corum, or it can win with steady toughness, gashing teams while playing the field-position game and effectively managing the clock.
It’s chess, not checkers — right?
Statistically, the Wolverines didn’t have a “wow” win vs. Iowa. Strategically, though, the victory over the Hawkeyes was exactly what Michigan needed as it preps for another road test at Indiana and the developing battle for the Big Ten title.