Michigan loses its swagger in Maryland, leaving much work to do in the week ahead
JJ McCarthy, acting head coach Sherrone Moore and the Michigan football program in general have been knocked down several pegs the past few weeks on the field.
Put any hurt feelings over Jim Harbaugh’s suspension or worries about what the NCAA might do sanctions-wise on the back burner. Michigan has less than 7 days to get right.
None of those off-the-field issues will matter if the Wolverines don’t take down Ohio State next Saturday in Ann Arbor. The rivals meet as 11-0 teams for the second straight year. And this time, the loser isn’t making the College Football Playoff. Too many unbeatens still in the mix, not to mention 1-loss teams Oregon, Texas and Alabama.
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This isn’t the best time for the Wolverines to look as mortal as they have all season. But that’s exactly how they did look in Saturday’s 31-24 survival victory at Maryland.
Through 9 weeks of dominant football — even if it was against a tissue paper soft schedule — Michigan appeared invincible. Harbaugh had a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a defense that led the country in terms of points and yards allowed. It didn’t matter a lick that Harbaugh wasn’t on the sideline for the first 3 games, that time because his bosses hoped to appease the NCAA by beating it to the slap on the wrist.
Now? Well, Michigan looks … vincible.
There are worries on both sides of the ball, and on the sidelines.
McCarthy, offense misfiring
Just 3 weeks ago, McCarthy’s uber-efficient results had the 2021 5-star recruit in the top 5 of the Heisman race. He hasn’t thrown for a touchdown since then, though, and didn’t even have an official pass attempt in the second half last week.
Given Penn State’s lack of scoring potency, that approach sort of made sense, though it was still bizarre. (Am I the only one who wondered if McCarthy had a sore wing?) Another explanation is that Penn State’s ferociously fast edge rushers were blowing by Michigan’s tackles.
Whatever the case, things got worse for McCarthy against the Terrapins. He cost the team points late in the first half with a horrendous interception — which followed a pass that should have been picked. After starting 7-for-11, he completed only 5 of his final 12 attempts, for a mere 44 yards. He finished with 141 yards passing a week after just 60 against the Nittany Lions.
No longer in the Heisman race, McCarthy may not even be the top QB in the Big Ten at the moment.
And there are other worries. Maryland, 9th in the B1G in total defense entering the game, held Michigan to 291 yards and Blake Corum to 3.4 yards per carry (94 yards on 28 attempts). Top WR Roman Wilson left early and didn’t return after taking a big hit.
OL Myles Hinton also went down, with an injury that appeared worse than Wilson’s. With LT LaDarius Henderson also out (a surprise on the pregame injury report), Michigan’s line depth has been significantly thinned out. That doesn’t bode well for next week, as Ohio State has a couple of elite edge rushers in JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer.
Jesse Minter’s defense slipping too
Thanks to 53 yards in sacks, Michigan held Maryland to 262 yards, and only 15 on the ground.
But Taulia Tagovailoa went on a serious heater in the middle 2 quarters, leading 3 TD drives. Maryland was able to push backup QB Billy Edwards Jr. into the end zone for all 3 scores. Michigan held on thanks to 2 key interceptions by Mike Sainristil and the fact that Maryland gave up 11 points with errors on offense and special teams.
In consecutive weeks, Michigan has ceded season-high points to Purdue (13), Penn State (15) and Maryland (24). The past 2 have been Michigan’s closest games of the season. Ohio State, across the board, presents several steps up in class. Marvin Harrison Jr., TreVeyon Henderson and even first-year starting QB Kyle McCord trump their Maryland counterparts. The Buckeyes’ line is clearly better too.
Minter, recently snubbed in Broyles Award selections after being a finalist last year, has something left to prove. He easily should be considered one of the best assistants in the country, but wasn’t among the 57 coaches to make this season’s first cut.
He’ll have the chance next weekend to prove that’s a glaring omission. But right now there’s reason to doubt if he can.
Is turmoil weighing on team?
Moore is holding his own. He opted to go for it on fourth down 3 times, and made the right play calls to pick up all 3. He may have been a bit too conservative on third down though, as Michigan went just 4-for-13 on those.
Most situations can be pre-planned with Harbaugh during the week, but the team probably could use the head man’s gut feel on key plays and also his halftime words of wisdom. It’ll have to get past Ohio State without those.
With alleged sign-stealing mastermind Connor Stalions and a linebackers coach jettisoned in the wake of the scandal, Michigan is dealing with a new vibe behind the scenes.
That’s another negative variable as the Wolverines zero in on their most important game of the season.
They might have to overcome their own doubts along with those of everybody on the outside.