Michigan football: Saturday's matchup against Nebraska should be show time for JJ McCarthy
Life isn’t that complex when you boil it down. If one were to do the things they excel at and avoid the things that cause stress, everything is a dream.
Football should be that simple. Everything that works for a program must be at the forefront of the team’s game plan. Things that are less-than-stellar should remain on the backend and untouched, thus saving the staff from blowing a gasket on the sidelines.
Michigan is one of college football’s more run-oriented offenses this season. The combination of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards has been lethal in conference play. Corum is averaging over 6.1 yards a carry through 9 games while Edwards is averaging roughly 6.7. As a unit, Michigan ranks 2nd in rushing touchdowns (29), 4th in rushing yards (250.0 yards per game) and 8th in yards per attempt (5.65).
All that’s fine and should keep the Wolverines in College Football Playoff contention. Does it make them a legit threat in the eyes of voters? Perhaps, but showing off the arm of JJ McCarthy might be the ticket to push Michigan from being in the running to actual front-runner status.
Saturday’s matchup against Nebraska is the ideal situation for McCarthy and the offense to let loose.
Home game? Check.
A sub-par secondary? Check.
A conference game?
You see where this is going, right?
Nebraska has lost 3 straight and must win out to become bowl eligible. In a sense, the offense has looked competent under interim head coach Mickey Joseph. The defense, however, continues to underwhelm, especially in coverage.
Through 9 games, the Huskers have allowed 14 touchdowns in coverage. Their 101st-ranked secondary is letting opponents average 258 yards per game through the air, while quarterbacks are completing 62.8% of their passes.
The Wolverines should be able to control the game however they please. Trusting Corum, Edwards and even the athletic McCarthy to run with ease against a defense that’s allowing opponents to average 4.5 yards a carry should be the first thing on their minds.
But for Michigan to earn the praise of “front-runners” in the CFP rankings, taking a few deep shots might not be the worst idea. Plus, it could be an audition for adding more explosive play to the sheet before facing off against the Buckeyes in Columbus come Nov. 26.
Can McCarthy connect with the deep ball
Michigan’s 52-17 win over Rutgers was one of the Wolverines’ most balanced offensive approaches. Three touchdowns came on the ground between Corum and McCarthy. Two more came through the air behind McCarthy, who finished 13-of-27 passing for 151 yards.
McCarthy, however, has struggled with the deep ball at times this season. Both scores came from within the 20-yard line against the Scarlet Knights. And outside of hitting Ronnie Bell for a gain of 35, McCarthy only attempted 1 pass 20+ yards downfield.
Earlier this week. McCarthy told reporters that lack of practice in the offseason has factored into his inability to go deep on a more consistent basis. This offseason, McCarthy was sidelined due to a shoulder injury, thus costing him time to build rapport with his receivers.
Outside of his performance against Hawaii in Week 2, McCarthy and the offense have relied heavily on consistency rather than explosive plays. In a 56-10 win over the Rainbow Warriors, McCarthy posted a 42-yard touchdown pass to Roman Wilson to make it 7-0. He also completed 5 more passes of over 30 yards.
It's been consistently Michigan's Achilles heel — the deep ball. McCarthy has Andrel Anthony wide open, no defenders within 7 yards of him, and throws it just a beat too far.
Anthony dives, it hits off his hands and he can't corral it.
— Tony Garcia (@RealTonyGarcia) November 6, 2022
The Huskers have yet to contain the big play this season. In its 9 matchups, Nebraska has allowed at least 1 touchdown pass in coverage of over 30 yards downfield. This doesn’t even include the handful of “explosive” passes 20+ yards downfield to set up scoring drives on the regular in the red zone.
Saturday is one of those matchups where Jim Harbaugh should be aggressive to go deep. While the rushing attack should do enough damage to help the Wolverines walk away victorious, the reason behind the passing attack is to prove to the nation that the offense is more than 1-dimensional.
The good news? No harm, no foul should things go awry. Should McCarthy struggle to connect with the targets downfield, Harbaugh can go back to pounding the rock. Until someone finds a way to contain Corum and Edwards, the clock will keep rolling and Michigan will keep winning.
Absolute dart to Roman Wilson.
Have to ride the wave that is J.J. McCarthy today. pic.twitter.com/089doZZe3O
— Shot of Michigan Sports (@shotofms) September 24, 2022
Michigan has shown all season it’s one of college football’s more consistent programs. The run game is alive and well. The offensive line has exceeded expectations. The defense, lead by 1st-year coordinator Jesse Minter, ranks 3rd nationally in scoring and No. 2 in total yards allowed. After scoring 6 of its 7 times in the red zone, there’s little doubt that Michigan can’t score from within the 20, either.
The only blemish left on Michigan’s resume entering the final 3 games is its ability to go deep. And if McCarthy can show off his skills as a vertical passer against the Huskers, the Wolverines might be college’s football most complete roster.
Some might then argue it should be favored entering Columbus week as well.