Michigan football: Another win for title-chasing Wolverines, but they need the deep-ball threat
Michigan is certainly a national contender, but its lack of a consistent deep-ball threat should concern Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff in Ann Arbor.
That’s the one factor that could stand in the way of championships.
During the No. 3-ranked Wolverines’ 34-3 win over Nebraska, quarterback JJ McCarthy missed Ronnie Bell thrice with deep throws — 2 were slight overthrows and 1 came off a receiver taking a bad angle. Later, McCarthy severely overthrew Roman Wilson with 10 seconds to play in the first half; the sophomore QB was looking to take a commanding 21-3 lead heading into halftime but missed the mark.
Michigan couldn’t convert the drive into a touchdown, instead settling for a field goal and 17-3 lead at the break.
It was evident vs. Michigan State, when Jake Moody had to kick 5 FGs in a 29-7 win, and it became more clear Saturday vs. the Huskers: Michigan needs to get more out of drives by adding exclamation points in the form of touchdowns, further expanding the reach of its offense and bolstering its chances of winning big this season.
Pick a game, really. There have been several misses with long-distance attempts. With a few more far-reaching connections, some of these games would have been over much sooner — negating the need for Michigan’s now-famous second-half heroics.
Having more success with the deep-ball would almost guarantee more points, along with a more feared offense.
Maybe something like Ohio State has fielded over the years?
Yes, defense wins championships. But both Michigan and Ohio State have top-10 defenses.
The separating factor Nov. 26 in Columbus could be offensive firepower. And while McCarthy entered Saturday with a B1G-leading 70.9 completion percentage, it’s Buckeyes QB CJ Stroud who appears to have the advantage when it comes to the glitz and glam of chunk-yard, deep-ball conversions.
On Saturday, in wet and cold conditions, Stroud threw for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns during a 56-14 home win over Indiana, which had the No. 108-ranked pass defense in the nation (264.4 YPG). Later in the afternoon, McCarthy faced Nebraska’s No. 104-ranked passing defense (258.8 YPG) and finished 8-17 for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Stroud routinely lights up stat sheets with deep passes for the Buckeyes, who have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country. McCarthy has provided an element of excitement to the Wolverines’ offense, but he’s still been a game-manager type of quarterback. He’s growing into a starring role but needs more time to develop.
His own worst critic, McCarthy has shouldered most of the blame when it comes to missed opportunities in the downfield game.
“Every single time, I’ll say that’s on me because they’re getting open,” McCarthy said earlier this week, per the Michigan Daily. “I have to put it on [receivers]. So I’d take 100% blame for all of the balls that are missed.”
Entering Saturday, Michigan had the No. 2 scoring offense. However, after Saturday’s so-so point production, the Wolverines could drop a spot or 2 in that category.
For the past 3 weeks, though scoring enough points to win, Michigan’s offense hasn’t presented an aerial threat that strikes fear into opponents. For the past 3 weeks, McCarthy has not thrown for more than 167 yards. Adding to the issue, his 145 yards vs. Penn State the previous game was a career-low as a starter — and then Saturday happened: a career-low 129 yards.
With Heisman candidate Blake Corum, the Wolverines’ rushing game has reached program-historic levels of production. Even with an “average game” vs. the Huskers, Corum went for 162 yards and a touchdown. Granted, he’s been the catalyst of the offense, but the Wolverines have more to offer and need to incorporate more downfield strikes into their passing attack.
We already know about the defense. Once again, it’s No. 1 vs. the rush and among the best against the past. The Wolverines entered Saturday with the No. 2-ranked total defense and top rushing defense.
If verticality is properly introduced and executed, the Wolverines — who are already a legitimate national-title contender — could go from really good to extremely dangerous, just in time for the season-finale at Ohio State, Big Ten championship and 4-team CFP postseason.
Back in October, McCarthy was asked about the development of the deep-pass game, which has been a topic of discussion regarding UM’s offense for the past 4-5 years.
“When you talk about potential and you look at what we have as a group and you look at who we’re coached by and you look at what we’re doing on the field, it’s just not matching up with our potential and what we should be — and where we’re going to be,” McCarthy said, per Chris Balas of The Wolverine (On3). “Everything is a process, and this entire season is just continual growth week to week, but I feel like we should be not getting stopped offensively. With the talent we have and the scheme, we shouldn’t be stopped.
“Being able to find our groove like we did in the second half [against Indiana] is going to be huge — every drive, every single game. Once we do that, then we’ll break through that surface, for sure.”