Michigan Football: Grading Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines through 5 games
It’s essentially halftime of the 2020 college football season. Michigan is nowhere near the top 10, nowhere near contention for a B1G championship and is likely to suffer its second rivalry loss of the season when it ends the year at Ohio State.
This year has been especially rough for the Wolverines, who finally got their second win of the season with a 48-42 3OT salvage job at Rutgers. It was the first time all season Michigan came back from a 2-plus-score deficit and it was just the second time it mounted any kind of “comeback” this year — if you count trailing Minnesota, 7-0, for roughly 10 seconds as a “comeback.”
Remember that? Down 7-0 within minutes.
Then RB Zach Charbonnet — who was basically untouched — busted out a 70-yard TD to tie up the game and ultimately shift momentum in Michigan’s favor vs. the Gophers. The Wolverines never trailed again.
Despite a mediocre 2-3 record, the Wolverines actually have shown a few positives this season. Not many, though. And there are far more negatives. Accompany that with the injuries of RT Jalen Mayfield, LT Ryan Hayes and DE Aidan Hutchinson, and the problems compound one another when trying to accurately assess the state of Michigan football.
Is Michigan really a bad team?
Is it because of X that leads to Y?
Or because of A that leads to B that leads to C?
So many questions surround UM. So many “what ifs?”
But at least the Wolverines have some sort of idea of what they have in QB Cade McNamara, who replaced Joe Milton during the 2nd quarter of Saturday’s win over Rutgers, helping lead UM to the triple-OT win after being down 17-0.
Linebacker Josh Ross, a senior, has been nothing less than outstandingly reliable this year. He’s had at least 8 tackles in 4 of 5 games.
Ross has been Mr. Steady all season. The rest of the defense, however, has been exploited at every turn, during every week — and there aren’t many signs of things turning around any time soon.
And time is ticking.
This shortened season won’t be forgiving during the final weeks.
Now that they’ve played 5 games, it’s time to take a look at all facets of the Wolverines’ game and deliver some grades.
Despite big numbers through the air, redshirt sophomore Joe Milton couldn’t overcome a set of obstacles that ultimately led to redshirt freshman Cade McNamara taking over the quarterback position. During the opener vs. Minnesota, Milton threw for a modest 225 yards and 1 TD, but he appeared to be in command en route to completing 15 of 22 attempts. He followed that with a 300-yard showing against Michigan State — no touchdowns, and the Wolverines lost 27-23 to the reeling Spartans.
At that point, he had yet to throw a pick. Then the INT bug bit him against Indiana; he threw for 344 yards and 3 TDs but the pair of giveaways hurt the Wolverines, who lost 38-21 — Indiana’s first win against UM since 1987.
The Wisconsin game was a wash for Milton, who threw a pair of interceptions before even completing a pass. McNamara saw some action, completing 4 of 7 attempts — but Harbaugh still decided to roll with Milton into Rutgers. It didn’t take long before Milton was yanked — in the 2nd quarter — in favor of McNamara, who threw for 260 yards and 4 TDs and ran for a crucial 2-yard touchdown in the second overtime period.
Milton had decent numbers, but the accuracy and consistency weren’t there. In terms of a debut, McNamara deserves a solid A for coming into a 17-0 game and immediately getting the Wolverines rolling in Piscataway.
Numbers-wise, Michigan has the No. 5 passing offense in the Big Ten. But don’t let that deceive you — prior to McNamara — and we’re all waiting to see if he can be consistent — the UM passing game was discombobulated in every sense of the word.
Michigan has no run game, whatsoever, and that’s one of the main reasons why it hasn’t been able to establish consistent tempo. Zach Charbonnet, a sophomore, was once thought to be the Wolverines’ next star RB — or at least one of them. As a true freshman in 2019, Charbonnet got all sorts of attention from Big Ten media.
The 6-1, 220-pound rhythm back was destined to anchor UM’s backfield.
He showed his wheels with a 70-yard TD vs. Minnesota. He wasn’t touched one bit and tilted the balance for UM, which cruised to a 49-24 win in Minneapolis. Since Week 1, Charbonnet’s carries have all but vanished: 5 carries for 3 yards vs. MSU; 1 for 4 yards vs. Indiana; 3 for 21 vs. Wisconsin; and 6 for 26 vs. Rutgers.
Hassan Haskins has a team-high 273 rushing yards and 4 TDs. The 6-1, 220-pound junior had 82 yards and 2 TDs vs. Minnesota — adding to Charbonnet’s big-time run — and racked up 110 yards and 1 TD vs. Rutgers this past weekend.
UM has experimented with Blake Corum, a true freshman — but mostly as a short-pass option in the flat. The same goes for senior Chris Evans, who has been more of a threat in the slot or on misdirection/reverse plays, in the flat, etc. The weapons are there but the management seems a bit off through 5 games — there is no reason why UM should have the No. 11 rushing offense (122.8 YPG) in the Big Ten.
Vs. the pass: D+
Redshirt sophomore Gemon Green leads all Michigan DBs with 5 PBUs. Really, he should have about two or three interceptions. Dax Hill, a sophomore, has a pick this year — the only INT by a Wolverines corner or safety. Linebacker Josh Ross, a senior, has the other interception.
Prior to this past Saturday, Vincent Gray, a senior, had been torched by everyone and their mother. MSU’s Rocky Lombardi, Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. and Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz all made several big-time connections with Gray’s assignments.
Michigan has the No. 13 passing defense in the Big Ten, so a D+ is more than fair in this case. Maybe a little generous?
Vs. the run: C
Other than Wisconsin, no team has really gone overboard on the ground vs. Michigan. Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim had 140 yards and 2 TDs — and he’s about the only one who can say they really ran wild vs. the Wolverines. Indiana’s Stevie Scott had 97 yards and 2 TDs, so perhaps he qualifies too. The Badgers steamrolled via committee, and they’re always strong on the ground.
Michigan has the No. 9 rushing defense in the Big Ten. Giving up 3.9 yards per run, UM does not have the run-stuffing D-line from years past. Linebacker Josh Ross has been the most consistent run-stopper for the Wolverines through 5 games and he’ll likely continue to anchor the defense for the rest of the year.
Jake Moody’s kickoffs have been average. Quinn Nordin just doesn’t seem to be the same confident and vocal freshman kicker he was in 2016. He’s 2-for-8 this season, compounding struggles that really came to light in 2019. When it comes to field goals, the Wolverines and 3 points just haven’t found a way to agree through 5 games.
Michigan is 19-for-19 on PATs — Moody is 7-for-7; Nordin 12-for-12 — so that counts for a little something.
Brad Robbins has been an All-World punter this year. It’s almost funny to even suggest that one of Michigan’s best players is its punter; however, he’s punted 19 times for 892 yards, an average of 46.9 yards — the 9th-best average in the country and tops in the B1G.
Giles Jackson can fly. He’s easily one of the fastest return men in the Big Ten. He averages 27.2 yards per kick return and 9 per punt return — and he’s the reason why UM has the No. 2 kickoff return and No. 7 punt return unit in the conference. He had a 95-yard kickoff return for TD against Rutgers and routinely warrants reason to keep your eyes glued to the TV when he has the ball.